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Matt Gaetz fundraises off scandal as new details emerge

Gaetz insisted he never sought a Trump pardon, but new reporting suggests otherwise. Gaetz is nevertheless trying to fundraise off the scandal.

It was about a week ago when the New York Times first reported that the Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor, possibly violating federal sex trafficking laws in the process. The scope of the scandal surrounding the Florida Republican grew in the days that followed.

It was against this backdrop that the GOP congressman appeared on Fox News a week ago today and said he had not asked Donald Trump -- the president whom Gaetz has cheered in sycophantic and flamboyant fashion -- for a pardon before Trump left office in January.

That may not have been altogether true. The New York Times reported overnight:

[Gaetz] privately asked the White House for blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed, according to two people told of the discussions. [...] Mr. Gaetz's appeal to the Trump White House shows how the third-term congressman sought to leverage an unlikely presidential relationship he had spent years cultivating.

There are a variety of details that are not yet clear. We don't know, for example, the extent to which Gaetz was aware of the criminal investigation into his alleged misconduct at the time. It's also unclear why the Floridian may have also sought pre-emptive pardons for his allies on Capitol Hill -- or who those allies might be -- though the Times' report added, "In recent days, some Trump associates have speculated that Mr. Gaetz's request for a group pardon was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure."

In other words, perhaps Gaetz hoped to receive less direct scrutiny by hiding amidst a crowd.

Regardless, the congressman, who's denied all of the recent allegations, insisted this week in a defensive op-ed that he's "certainly not a criminal." Time will tell if that remains true, though if the New York Times' reporting is accurate, Gaetz was concerned enough about possible criminal charges that he sought a "blanket pre-emptive pardon" from his pal in the Oval Office.

The reported revelations coincide with the GOP congressman taking the extraordinary step this week of launching a fundraising campaign based on the allegations. TPM reported yesterday:

"The far-left New York Times has been publishing salacious allegations against me in an attempt to end my career fighting for the forgotten men and women of this country," the email read. "It is a shame that the Left tries to drag my dating life into their political attacks, but it's no surprise – when your ideas suck, you have to stoop this low." A big red button invites you to "CLICK HERE TO FIGHT BACK AGAINST THE FAKE NEWS," which redirects to a donation page on Gaetz's campaign website.

There's something inherently amazing about the audacity of such appeals. Gaetz isn't telling his supporters to give him money despite the criminal scandal; he's telling his supporters to give him money because of the criminal scandal.

It's also amazing to see the Floridian suggest the controversy is over his "dating life." I can appreciate why Gaetz wouldn't want to mention this in his fundraising letter, but there are important differences between "dating," alleged sexual trafficking, and women allegedly "recruited online for sex" in exchange for, among other things, drugs.

As for the congressman's focus on the New York Times, let's also not forget that it's the Justice Department that's taken an interest in Gaetz, not just journalists. The Republican acknowledged on the record in an interview with Axios last week that he was "a subject of an investigation regarding sexual conduct with women."

Why donors would want to reward such circumstances with a financial contribution is unclear.