In his second rally of the weekend, Donald Trump spewed his typical racism and election lies, but he also issued an apology “on behalf of the country.” The apology was to Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who for many months was under investigation for alleged sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl, bringing women across state lines for prostitution and obstructing justice. The twice-impeached former president seems to believe he has the authority not only to speak for the country that voted him out of office but to apologize to an alleged sex trafficker on its behalf.
“A man who is a fantastic person, gets a little controversial on occasion, but there is nobody better than this guy — and he has been through a lot,” Trump said of Gaetz.
Gaetz and his friend, Joel Greenberg, came under suspicion in 2020 after prosecutors charged Greenberg with making up fake allegations and fake evidence to smear a political opponent. During that investigation of Greenberg, officials also found evidence that led them to believe he may have been paying women, including a 17-year-old, to have sex with Gaetz. The congressman has repeatedly denied the allegations and maintained his innocence.
At the rally, Trump avoided getting too specific about the details of the Gaetz investigation. “The word we can’t say, I am not going to say, but he went through things having to do with that and it was terrible how he got treated. He is so tough, so strong, and everybody says he is smart and he loves this state and this country. Matt Gaetz. Great man, great man. Really great, thank you. We apologize to you on behalf of the country, all of us do, because what you went through is just terrible and so unnecessary.”
But perhaps Trump should be apologizing on behalf of himself. Because when Gaetz asked him for a preemptive pardon before he left the White House, Trump did not give him one. According to congressional testimony by John McEntee, who served as director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office under Trump, Gaetz complained that the Department of Justice was attempting to “make his life hell.” It would be “great” if Trump could issue him a pardon, Gaetz said, according to McEntee. But Trump did not pardon him.
Greenberg eventually pleaded guilty to six charges, including sex trafficking of a minor, and agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in their investigation of Gaetz. But late last month, prosecutors recommended against charging the congressman in the matter due to questions about how credible two key witnesses would appear to a jury.
The rest of Trump’s speech at the Florida rally was filled with his typical fare. He complained about Democrats and “Crazy Nancy Pelosi,” asking glibly, “By the way, how is she doing lately?” when he knows that the House speaker’s husband, Paul Pelosi, was attacked by a man who broke into their home with a hammer, leaving Pelosi with a fractured skull as well as other serious injuries. Trump also repeated his lies about the 2020 election, and he claimed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court admitted ballots in 2020 were counted that should not have been, when it did no such thing. Later, Trump seemed to hint that he may announce a 2024 presidential run during his upcoming rally in Ohio on Monday.
“In order to make our country successful, safe and glorious, I probably have to do it [run] again,” Trump said. “Stay tuned.”