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Former President Donald Trump had to be talked out of defending Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz after reports surfaced that the Justice Department was investigating whether he had a sexual relationship with a minor and broke federal sex-trafficking laws.
That’s according to The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, who on Thursday told CNN’s “New Day” that Trump had really wanted to defend the GOP lawmaker, but that he was told to stand down because the allegations against Gaetz were so serious.
“His first impulse was that he wanted to defend Gaetz, you know, ‘He’s one of our people,'” Haberman said. “Several of his advisors had told him that’s a very bad idea, that the nature of what Gaetz is being investigated for is so serious that this is not something that former President Trump should be out there on a limb” for.
Indeed, the silence from Trumpworld was deafening in the days following The Times’ revelation about the Gaetz sex probe. Some within the former president’s orbit even celebrated the controversy, with one former White House staffer telling Insider last month, “He’s the meanest person in politics.”
Another Trump confidant echoed that assessment, telling Politico, “The reason you haven’t seen people in MAGA world defending Gaetz is less about him being unpopular, which he is in a lot of circles, and more about the fact that he hasn’t done a single thing to make people comfortable to defend him.”
The Daily Beast reported on Friday that Trump had stayed quiet on the controversy on the advice of his lawyers. One source told the news website that Trump complained that the situation was “really bad” for Gaetz and that the allegations could be part of an attempt to “smear” Gaetz, who has long been one of Trump’s biggest attack dogs on Capitol Hill.
The lawmaker himself made the same claim, saying that the investigation is part of a convoluted, multimillion dollar extortion scheme against his family. However, the Justice Department’s investigation into Gaetz kicked off late last summer and had been well underway by the time Gaetz said the alleged extortion plot started, in early March.
That doesn’t necessarily mean his claims are untrue, but it does mean it’s unlikely the department’s probe was launched as part of any such scheme.
Trump, for his part, released his first public statement about the Gaetz controversy on Wednesday. The statement came after The Times reported that Gaetz had asked Trump, near the end of his presidency, for preemptive pardons for himself and his allies.
Gaetz’s office denied the reporting, and Trump’s statement also said the GOP lawmaker “never” asked for a pardon, adding that “it must be remembered” Gaetz denied the allegations against him.