Rep. Gaetz sought Trump pardon, former White House aide testifies to Jan 6 committee

Sep 17, 2022, 8:50 PM | Updated: 9:21 pm
FILE: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercia...
FILE: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law hearing on Online Platforms and Market Power in the Rayburn House office Building, July 29, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)
(Photo by Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images)

(CNN) — An aide to former President Donald Trump testified to the House Select Committee investigating January 6 that GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida sought a preemptive presidential pardon relating to a Justice Department investigation examining whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, a source familiar with the aide’s testimony tells CNN.

John McEntee, who served as director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office in the Trump Administration, told the committee that Gaetz spoke with him about his process for seeking a pardon relating to the DOJ’s investigation in a short meeting. McEntee told the committee he could not remember if his brief meeting with Gaetz was before or after the attack on the Capitol.

Gaetz has not been charged with any crimes, and the investigation is ongoing. An associate of Gaetz, former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg, pleaded guilty to federal charges including a count of sex trafficking of a child, after striking a plea deal with federal prosecutors for a reduced criminal case after agreeing to give “substantial assistance” to the sprawling investigation. The assistance included an agreement to testify at trials or in federal grand juries if needed and to turn over all documents that could help the federal inquiry.

Gaetz has claimed the allegations stemmed from an extortion plot against him and his family, saying in a statement to CNN in 2021 that “no part of the allegations against me are true.” His spokesman also said that Gaetz has never paid for sex, nor has he had sex with a 17-year-old as an adult.​

The new information McEntee told the select committee provides more context into Gaetz’s concern about the investigation and provides fresh insight into the specific kind of pardon Gaetz was seeking. The Justice Department has been investigating Gaetz since early 2021 over allegations involving sex trafficking and prostitution, including whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

GOP Rep. Gaetz investigated over sexual relationship

McEntee relayed to the committee that Gaetz said at the time “they are launching an investigation into him or that there’s an investigation into him,” without mentioning the Justice Department as the entity investigating him explicitly. But when committee investigators asked McEntee if he interpreted Gaetz’s request for a pardon to be in the context of the DOJ investigation, McEntee said “I think that was the context, yes.”

McEntee also testified that Gaetz told him that “he did not do anything wrong but they are trying to make his life hell, and you know, if the president could give him a pardon, that would be great.”

The details of McEntee’s testimony were first reported by The Washington Post.

McEntee also told the committee that Gaetz shared he had asked Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows for a pardon, which the panel has already revealed in previous testimony. A spokesperson for Meadows did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Gaetz told CNN, “Congressman Matt Gaetz discussed pardons for many other people publicly and privately at the end of President Donald Trump’s first term. As for himself, President Trump addressed this malicious rumor more than a year ago stating, ‘Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon.’ Rep. Gaetz continues to stand by President Trump’s statement.”

The panel had already revealed some of McEntee’s testimony in one of its June hearings. McEntee testified to the committee that Gaetz said he asked Meadows explicitly for a pardon, though it was not clear at the time what the pardon request was for. CNN reached out to a phone number and an email address believed to belong to McEntee for comment but has not received a response.

When an investigator asked McEntee how he knew Gaetz had asked Meadows for a pardon, McEntee replied, “he told me he had asked Meadows for a pardon.”

The committee also revealed testimony from McEntee where he said he was aware of conversations about the possibility of a blanket pardon relating to January 6. The committee had also previously revealed that a group of Republican lawmakers, including Gaetz, had sought preemptive presidential pardons.

Gaetz associate pleads guilty to sex trafficking charges

A spokesperson for the House select committee declined to comment.

During a June hearing, the panel revealed an email sent from GOP Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama to the White House “pursuant to a request from Matt Gaetz,” requesting a pardon for Gaetz, himself, and others who were unnamed.

Former Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson also testified to the committee that “Mr. Gaetz was personally pushing for a pardon, and he was doing so since early December, I’m not sure why. Mr. Gaetz had reached out to me to ask if he could have a meeting with Mr. Meadows about receiving a presidential pardon.”

Hutchinson said that Gaetz was not the only GOP member to contact her about a blanket presidential pardon. She said GOP Reps. Brooks, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania all contacted her about receiving pardons. She testified that she heard GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, “had asked White House Counsel’s Office for a pardon from Mr. Philbin, but I didn’t frequently communicate with Ms. Green.” She said GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio “talked about congressional pardons, but he never asked me for one.”

Former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann testified to the committee, “I believe so” when asked if Gaetz sought a presidential pardon.

“The general tone was we may get prosecuted because we were defensive of the president’s positions on these things. The pardon that he was discussing, requesting was as broad as you could describe. From beginning — I remember he said, from the beginning of time up until today for any and all things. He had mentioned Nixon, and I said Nixon’s pardon was never nearly that broad,” Herschmann testified, which the committee revealed during its hearing.

None of the lawmakers ever received pardons from Trump.

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Rep. Gaetz sought Trump pardon, former White House aide testifies to Jan 6 committee