- Bill Barr threatened to fire a US attorney after he spoke with Matt Gaetz about DOJ business, Politico reported.
- “If I ever hear of you talking to Gaetz … I am going to f—ing fire your a–,” Barr said.
- He reportedly made the threat last year, while the DOJ was investigating Gaetz for sex trafficking.
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Then-Attorney General Bill Barr was furious last year after a US attorney close to Rep. Matt Gaetz spoke to the lawmaker about Justice Department business, Politico reported Wednesday.
“If I ever hear of you talking to Gaetz or any other congressman again about business before the department, I am going to f—ing fire your a–,” Barr reportedly told Larry Keefe, Gaetz’s former law partner who then-President Donald Trump later tapped to lead the US attorney’s office for the Northern District of Florida.
The threat came as Keefe was looking to launch an investigation into purported voter fraud in Florida while then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was on the cusp of being the party’s nominee for the general election, according to Politico.
The exact timing of Barr’s phone call to Keefe is not clear, but it took place in the late summer or early fall, as the department was also investigating whether Gaetz had sex with a minor and broke federal sex-trafficking laws.
Sources familiar with the matter told Politico that lawyers in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section were concerned that the scope of the investigation Keefe wanted was too broad. Keefe, meanwhile, is said to have discussed the situation with Gaetz. The Florida lawmaker told Politico that he and Keefe had just spoken broadly about “legal doctrine related to jurisdiction and venue” and not about the specifics of any investigation.
Eventually, Trump learned of their conversation, and Gaetz told Politico he’d spoken to the former president about voter fraud linked to absentee ballots, and then raised a legal theory Keefe had mentioned to him.
“I said to [Trump] 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 told Politico. “I also shared with President Trump that Keefe had faced substantial resistance from the Department of Justice.”
Gaetz said Trump told then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who was at the meeting, to discuss the idea with Barr. Upon hearing about the conversation, Barr became infuriated and called Keefe and threatened to fire him, Politico said.
Gaetz told the outlet he was not aware of the phone call but noted that he did get a call from Keefe saying he couldn’t discuss DOJ matters with Gaetz. Keefe told the outlet it was “not appropriate” for him to discuss his work as US attorney but that he stands by his decisions.
Barr was one of several senior Trump appointees at the department who were aware of – and greenlit – the investigation into Gaetz. Earlier this month, Politico reported that Barr specifically avoided being seen or photographed with Gaetz in public while the investigation was ongoing.
The New York Times revealed the existence of the Gaetz sex-trafficking probe late last month. The Republican lawmaker has denied any wrongdoing and said he never paid women for sex or had a sexual relationship with a minor as an adult man. Prosecutors are said to have zeroed in on Gaetz as part of a broader probe into his associate, the former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg. Greenberg has been indicted on 33 felony counts, including carrying out the sex trafficking of a minor between the ages of 14 and 17.
Earlier this month, prosecutors and Greenberg’s defense attorneys told a federal judge that they were close to striking a plea deal.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, told reporters afterward.
The Times later reported that Greenberg has been cooperating against Gaetz since last year.