Months before news broke that the feds were investigating him for sex trafficking, Rep. Matt Gaetz was at the center of a separate internal fight at the Justice Department. The sparring match involved an Oval Office meeting, a foul-mouthed threat from the attorney general and voting in Florida. It has not been previously reported.
In Aug. 2018, President Donald Trump nominated Larry Keefe — a former law partner of Gaetz’s at the firm Keefe, Anchors & Gordon — as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida. More than a year after he was sworn in, and as Joe Biden was locking up the Democratic nomination, Keefe looked to open a wide-ranging probe into voter fraud in Florida, according to two people familiar with the matter.
To open the probe, he needed approval from the Public Integrity Section at the Justice Department’s headquarters. The lawyers there blanched at the statewide scope of Keefe’s proposal, the sources said, and indicated they thought it would be too broad.
Keefe told Gaetz that he was facing resistance from the Public Integrity Section, according to a third person familiar with the situation….
After Keefe and Gaetz discussed the issue, the congressman had a meeting in the Oval Office with Trump. Gaetz said Trump brought up his views on fraud connected to mail-in voting. In response, Gaetz brought up Keefe’s legal theory.
“I said to him that an appreciation for the Keefe position on venue would give good U.S. attorneys in every capital city the necessary jurisdiction to root out fraud,” Gaetz said. “I also shared with President Trump that Keefe had faced substantial resistance from the Department of Justice.”
Gaetz said that Trump then told White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who was in the room, to tell Attorney General William Barr that Trump believed Keefe’s legal theory had merit.
When Barr learned about Gaetz’s conversation with the president, he was incensed. The attorney general called the U.S. attorney and gave him an earful, according to two people familiar with the call.
“If I ever hear of you talking to Gaetz or any other congressman again about business before the department, I am going to fucking fire your ass,” Barr told him, according to one of the people with knowledge of the call.