FL’s Matt Gaetz gets aggressive with constitutional scholars during impeachment hearing in Judiciary Committee

Florida's U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz speaks during impeachment testimony by constitutional scholars before the House Judiciary Committee on December 4, 2019. Credit: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida attorney, rhetorically attacked constitutional law experts who testified against President Trump Wednesday as impeachment hearings moved to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Gaetz, who represents the far western Florida Panhandle, seized upon campaign donations by some of the experts to Democrats; their earlier statements critical of Trump; both early support and skepticism of impeachment; and lack of direct fact testimony against the president.

Gaetz ran roughshod over witnesses’ attempts to answer his questions, at one point telling Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School: “You don’t get to interrupt me on this time.”

Gaetz was one of five Florida members of the Judiciary Committee who participated in the hearings, and they tended to adhere to their respective party lines as the impeachment process against Trump continued.

The committee – a report by the House Intelligence committee finding abuses of presidential power in hand – spent the day hearing testimony by law professors Karlan, Noah Feldman of Harvard University, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina, and Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.

Feldman, Karlan, and Gerhardt agreed that the evidence – that the president withheld an official act to pressure a foreign leader to benefit his re-election, compromising national security, and then obstructed the investigation – presents precisely the scenario the Constitution’s framers feared when writing the impeachment clause.

Their testimony also hit on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which found evidence of five instances of obstruction of the Mueller inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Turley, however, complained that the evidence did not meet historical standards for impeachment, and that the process was being rushed. He called it a “slipshod impeachment.”

Gaetz asked the experts to raise their hands if they had first-hand knowledge of the events at issue. None did – of course, the committee’s Democratic leadership called them to discuss their constitutional expertise, not the asserted facts at issue.

Earlier, Ted Deutch, a Democrat representing southeastern Palm Beach and northern Broward counties, drew upon the experience of his late father, Bernard Deutch, who suffered wounds while serving in World War II.

He and other wounded servicemen “served under officers and a commander in chief who were not fighting a war for their own personal benefit. They put country first. They made the same, solemn promise that members of Congress and the president of the United States make, to always put national interests above their own, personal interest,” Deutch said.

“The evidence shows that the president broke that promise,” Deutch continued. The remedy for abuse of power, he added, is impeachment.

He elicited agreement on that point from Feldman, Karlan, and Gerhardt.

The president’s alleged acts “go to the very foundation of our democracy,” Karlan said. Holding up nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for help with his political opponents is “the essence of doing something for personal reasons rather than for political reasons,” she added.

When Trump first ran for president, “he had never been anything other than a reality TV show – that was his public life. Maybe then he could think, ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ is an OK thing to do. But by the time he asked, Ukraine, if you’re listening, could you help me out with my re-election, he has to have known that was not something that was consistent with his oath of office.”

The other Florida Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are Val Demings, who also participated in the Intelligence Committee hearings, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. The other Republican is Greg Steube.

Demings focused on Trump’s refusal to produce subpoenaed documents or allow aides to testify. Gerhardt testified that the committee is entitled to draw from that refusal inferences contrary to the president’s defense – noting that the information would alleviate committee Republicans’ complaints about insufficient testimony.

Even President Nixon offered more cooperation during his impeachment proceedings than Trump is now, Gerhardt said. Even so, the impeachment counts against Nixon included obstruction of Congress.

“One of the difficulties with asking for a more thorough investigation is that’s exactly what the House is trying to conduct here,” Gerhardt said. “And the president has refused to comply with subpoenas and other requests for information. That’s where the blockage occurs. That’s why there are documents not produced and why there are people not testifying that people have said here today they want to hear from.”