WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Former President Donald Trump said Rep. Matt Gaetz never asked him for a preemptive pardon despite reports that the embattled representative did amid a federal investigation.
The 38-year-old Florida representative is under scrutiny by federal prosecutors over whether he had sex with a 17-year-old and other underage girls and violated federal sex trafficking laws, people familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press. No charges have been filed, and Gaetz has denied the allegations.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” Trump said in a statement. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
The New York Times reported that Gaetz asked Trump for a preemptive pardon during his final days in office. Trump issued more than 70 pardons in the waning days of his first term.
The Justice Department investigation began last year while Trump was still president and reached the highest levels of the Justice Department; former Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the matter several times, the people who spoke to the AP said.
Gaetz helped lead an unsuccessful battle in January to depose Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, from her job as No. 3 House GOP leader. Days earlier, she was among just 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump.
Rep. Gaetz said Monday he would not leave Congress and denied that he “slept with” an underage girl, suggesting that accusations against him by political foes stem from anger.
“First, I have never, ever paid for sex,” he wrote in a column appearing in the Washington Examiner, a conservative news outlet. “And second, I, as an adult man, have not slept with a 17-year-old.”
Engaged since New Year’s Eve, he wrote, “My lifestyle of yesteryear may be different from how I live now, but it was not and is not illegal.”
Gaetz’s article was published the same day a former congressional aide told reporters he was interviewed last week by the FBI. Nathan Nelson, a military adviser who left Gaetz’s office in October, said he was questioned about whether he’d left that job because he knew of Gaetz’s “involvement in illegal activities.”
“I’m here this morning to state that nothing could be farther from the truth. Neither I nor any other member of Congressman Gaetz’s staff had any knowledge of illegal activities,” Nelson said at his home in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
Democrats have called on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to strip Gaetz of his committee assignments while the federal probe is underway, especially his seat on the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department. Gaetz also sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that Gaetz should be at a minimum removed from the House Judiciary Committee if the claims are true.
“If in fact these allegations are true, of course being removed from the Judiciary Committee is the least that could be done,” Pelosi told reporters. She added, “From what we’ve heard so far, this would be a matter for the Ethics Committee.”
McCarthy, R-Calif., said last week that the accusations were “serious” and that if proved, Gaetz would be removed from committees.