By Gabby Orr, Dana Bash and Kevin Liptak | CNN
Rep. Matt Gaetz, who’s facing a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations, was recently denied a meeting with Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate as the ex-President and his allies continue to distance themselves from the Florida congressman.
Two people familiar with the matter said Gaetz tried to schedule a visit with Trump after it was first revealed that he was being investigated, but the request was rejected by aides close to the former President, who have urged Trump not to stick his neck out to defend Gaetz. Harlan Hill, a spokesman for Gaetz, said the congressman did not request a meeting with Trump this week.
“Rep. Gaetz was welcomed to Trump Doral this week and has not sought to meet with President Trump himself,” Hill said in a statement to CNN, claiming that Gaetz has “been mostly relaxing with his fiancée this week during recess.”
The interference by Trump’s aides signals that Gaetz finds himself increasingly isolated as he weathers a potentially career-ending scandal just months after he offered to leave his plum job in Congress to join the 45th President’s impeachment defense team. Trump has issued only one statement about Gaetz since the public first learned of the congressman’s role in a sex trafficking inquiry at the beginning of April. In it, Trump denied ever receiving a blanket pardon request from the 38-year-old congressman and noted Gaetz’s denial of the allegations against him.
Following repeated requests for comment, Trump spokesman Jason Miller wrote in a tweet on Sunday evening that Gaetz did not request a meeting “and therefore, it could never have been denied.”
Federal investigators are examining allegations that Gaetz had sex with an underage girl who was 17 at the time and with other women who were provided drugs and money in violation of sex trafficking and prostitution laws. Federal investigators are also seeking to determine whether Gaetz was provided travel and women in exchange for political favors as part of a broader probe, people familiar with the investigation tell CNN.
Gaetz has continued to deny all allegations against him and has not been charged with any crimes.
The ex-President has otherwise kept silent since issuing the two-sentence missive last week. Speaking to deep-pocketed GOP donors at his Palm Beach club on Saturday, Trump omitted Gaetz as he name-checked many of his top Republican defenders — from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, according to two people familiar with his remarks.
Trump’s failure to mention Gaetz was viewed as conspicuous to some in the crowd, given the congressman’s outsized loyalty to the former President and the litany of other Republicans Trump called out during his speech.
Meanwhile, Gaetz’s appearance on Friday at a conference for pro-Trump women raised eyebrows inside the former President’s orbit. Aides saw his last-minute speech at the Women for America First event, which was held at the nearby Trump National Doral resort, as a blatant attempt to reach Trump and his supporters.
A person directly involved with Trump’s post-presidential operation said the ex-President’s aides “were under the impression that Gaetz went down there to try and run into Trump or people around him.”
Gaetz, who was announced as a “special guest” only days before the summit began, used his time on stage to denounce “wild conspiracy theories” about his personal life, and to reaffirm his plans to remain on Capitol Hill.
“I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere,” he told the crowd.
Gaetz has already faced calls from one Republican colleague, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, to resign his congressional seat and has received virtually no support from within Trump’s orbit. The Florida firebrand, who is known for having few friends inside Washington, is also at risk of losing his committee assignments depending on investigators’ findings, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News last week.
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