Even more interesting, if not for the allegation itself but for its implications. Late last night, the New York Times reported that Matt Gaetz tried to use his friendship with Donald Trump to secure “blanket pardons” for himself and others on Capitol Hill. According to their sources, that request came in private conversation with Trump’s “aides,” but was ultimately futile:
In the final weeks of Mr. Trump’s term, Mr. Gaetz sought something in return. He 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.
Around that time, Mr. Gaetz was also publicly calling for broad pardons from Mr. Trump to thwart what he termed the “bloodlust” of their political opponents. But Justice Department investigators had begun questioning Mr. Gaetz’s associates about his conduct, including whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old that violated sex trafficking laws, in an inquiry that grew out of the case of an indicted associate in Florida.
It was unclear whether Mr. Gaetz or the White House knew at the time about the inquiry, or who else he sought pardons for. Mr. Gaetz did not tell White House aides that he was under investigation for potential sex trafficking violations when he made the request. But top White House lawyers and officials viewed the request for a pre-emptive pardon as a nonstarter that would set a bad precedent, the people said.
Aides told Mr. Trump of the request, though it is unclear whether Mr. Gaetz discussed the matter directly with the president.
Following up, ABC heard a similar story from its sources. In their telling, Trump immediately shot down the idea:
During the final weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz asked the White House for a blanket presidential pardon — a request that was ultimately not granted, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Gaetz’s seeking of a preemptive pardon for crimes that may have been committed was first reported by the New York Times.
Trump was aware of Gaetz’s request, but the idea was quickly dismissed inside the White House, sources told ABC News.
What the heck is a “blanket pardon,” anyway? Jimmy Carter issued a blanket pardon to Vietnam War draft dodgers, but that was for a specific crime. The “blanket” part of that order was that it applied to anyone who had committed it. It’s unclear what a “blanket pardon” would be when applied to a particular individual, but it sounds a lot like the Get Out of Jail Free card from Monopoly. Which, considering that we’re talking about members of Congress, might be appropriate considering their appropriations.
ABC’s expert scoffed at the idea:
“The request was so outlandish, apparently, that even President Trump turned it down,” Michael Waldman, president of the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, told ABC News.
“A blanket pardon would be extraordinary,” said Waldman. “A blanket pardon to a member of Congress under investigation would have been even more extraordinary. It is an open question whether a president can give a blanket pardon in advance, since it amounts to an invitation to go forth and break the law.”
That’s likely why Trump dismissed the idea out of hand. He certainly wouldn’t have needed the kind of fury such a pardon would have created in those final weeks. However, Trump had been careful all along not to pre-empt prosecutors with his pardons. His clemency actions for Paul Manafort and Roger Stone are worthy of criticism, but Trump did wait for their court cases to conclude before intervening.
Anyway, if this is true — and let’s remember to keep some degree of skepticism over anonymous sources that might be talking to two different media outlets at once — it makes Gaetz’ case much more curious. The prior leaks about the investigation likely came from sources within the FBI or Department of Justice, where people might have political axes to grind. (Remember Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, for instance, and Andrew McCabe?) This leak, assuming both the NYT and ABC characterized their sources honestly, appears to be coming from inside MAGA Central itself. Who else would know about a “private” entreaty to the White House for a pardon, except the Trump officials at the White House itself? Who else would know Trump’s reaction to it? Or what Gaetz told them, and what he didn’t tell them?
We still haven’t seen any firm evidence of Gaetz’ wrongdoing. However, it might not just be some DoJ figures with an axe to grind who are talking about this, either. As I wrote from the time the NYT first reported on these allegations, who’s leaking this and why matters. That question just got a lot more interesting.