Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told a former White House aide that he was seeking a preemptive pardon from President Donald Trump regarding an investigation in which he is a target, according to testimony given to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Johnny McEntee, according to people familiar with his testimony, told investigators that Gaetz told him during a brief meeting "that they are launching an investigation into him or that there's an investigation into him," without specifying who was investigating Gaetz.
McEntee added that Gaetz told him "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." Gaetz told McEntee that he had asked White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for a pardon.
Asked by investigators if Gaetz's ask for a pardon was in the context of the Justice Department investigation into whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, McEntee replied, "I think that was the context, yes," according to people familiar with the testimony who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
The testimony is the first indication that Gaetz was specifically seeking a pardon for his own exposure related to the Justice Department inquiry into whether he violated sex trafficking laws. His public posture in the final months of the Trump administration was much less specific, repeatedly calling for broad preemptive pardons to fend off possible Democratic investigations.
McEntee testified that Gaetz met him briefly one evening and discussed the issue of a pardon but McEntee could not recall whether their conversation happened before or after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, according to people familiar with the testimony.
The Justice Department investigation into whether Gaetz paid for sex, paid for women to travel across state lines to have sex, and had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, was opened in the final months of the Trump administration with approval from Attorney General William P. Barr. The probe stemmed from a federal investigation of Gaetz's friend who is now a convicted sex trafficker. Gaetz has denied paying for sex or having sex with a minor as an adult.
McEntee did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Neither Meadows nor his lawyer immediately responded to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Gaetz declined to address the testimony or whether Gaetz discussed a pardon with McEntee or Meadows and instead responded that Gaetz never directly asked Trump for a pardon.
"Congressman Matt Gaetz discussed pardons for many other people publicly and privately at the end of President Donald Trump's first term," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "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 House select committee also declined to comment.
Gaetz has not been charged with any crimes but Joel Greenberg, a Gaetz associate and former tax collector for Seminole County, Fla., pleaded guilty last spring to six criminal charges, including sex trafficking of a minor. Greenberg agreed to cooperate fully with prosecutors and testify in court, and has been providing investigators with information about Gaetz since 2020, The Washington Post previously reported.
"The last time I had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, I was 17," Gaetz has previously said. On Nov. 25, 2020, weeks after Trump lost the presidential election, Gaetz told Fox News that Trump "should pardon everyone from himself to his administration officials to Joe Exotic if he has to."
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top White House aide to Meadows, told the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack that she recalled Gaetz and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) both advocating for a "blanket pardon" for lawmakers who attended a Dec. 21, 2020, meeting at the White House to discuss efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In the previously aired testimony, she said they also advocated for pardons for "a handful of other members that were not at the December 21st meeting."
Hutchinson added that Gaetz, however, "was personally pushing" for a pardon "since early December." But the focus of that pardon request was not clear from Hutchinson's testimony. "I'm not sure why Mr. Gaetz would reach out to me to ask if he could have a meeting with Mr. Meadows about receiving a presidential pardon," she added.
Brooks, who put a request for a pardon in an email to a White House aide at the time, defended his actions in a statement after Hutchinson's testimony saying, "There was a concern Democrats would abuse the judicial system by prosecuting and jailing Republicans" for objecting in Congress to the certification of the election.
Eric Herschmann, a former Trump White House lawyer, told investigators that he also believed that Gaetz was seeking a pardon, according to an excerpt of the deposition played during one of the committee's public hearings.
"The general tone was, we may get prosecuted because we were defensive of, you know, the president's positions on these things," Herschmann recalled. "The pardon that he was discussing requesting was as broad as you can describe, from the beginning - I remember he is - from the beginning of time up until today for any and all things. Then he mentioned Nixon. And I said Nixon's pardon was never nearly that broad."
Gaetz ultimately did not receive a pardon from the former president.