U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz shouts out his criticism during impeachment hearings

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz talks out of turn and interrupts during testimony by Democratic and Republican counsel in an impeachment hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 9, 2019. Credit: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz brought his bomb-throwing talents to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings Monday, forcing committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to gavel him down more than once.

Gaetz, a Republican from Pensacola and an ardent defender of President Trump, was among a number of GOP representatives who peppered the proceedings with procedural points of order.

“Is this just when we hear staff ask questions of other staff and the members get dealt out of this whole hearing for the next four hours?” Gaetz demanded. “You’re going to try to overturn the results of an election with unelected people giving [unintelligible].”

The Republicans were upset that U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California,” the Democrat whose Intelligence Committee produced the evidence arguing for impeachment, did not testify Monday but rather sent committee attorney Daniel Goldman.

During the frequently bitter back-and-forth, GOP aide Steve Castor presented the Republican defense of the president. The testimony was preparatory to the committee likely drawing up articles of impeachment.

Schiff  “dealt out members of Congress [because] he knows that as a consequence of his lies & conducting most of this in the bunker in the basement of the Capitol – he has no credibility. So Dems are looking for a lawyer or staff member that has more credibility than Schiff,” Gaetz argued via his Twitter feed.

Republicans have complained that Schiff has a credibility problem, pointing to the chairman’s paraphrase comparing Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to a mobster’s shakedown.

They also allege that Schiff wasn’t forthcoming about staff members’ contacts with the whistleblower who complained about that call. Schiff has acknowledged the contacts but said his staff counseled the whistleblower to follow established procedures.

Gaetz also spoke out of turn in objecting to a Democratic motion to take a break by shouting: “This is so they can have a press conference before Mr. Castor gets a chance to offer rebuttal. Nobody asked for this break.”

Later, during questioning, Gaetz hammered Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who joined the committee staff, for contributing as a private lawyer to Democratic candidates and sending tweets critical of the president.

Through interruptions by Gaetz, Goldman insisted he had no partisan motivation in presenting the Democratic committee majority’s case for impeachment.

“I would be happy to put this investigation up with any of the nonpartisan investigations … ” he said before Gaetz cut off his efforts to explain.

“Guess you don’t want to answer the question,” Gaetz interjected at one point. Her complained that Democrats were stinting on legislation to aid the public in favor of the impeachment probe.

“The only thing for Americans under the Christmas tree for most Americans would be a lump of coal – but I think they’re against coal, too,” Gaetz said.

(In fact, the House has sent major legislation to the Senate, where it has languished.)

Committee Democrats insisted the record amply supports impeachment. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, representing portions of Palm Beach and Broward counties, referred to numerous text and telephone messages in which he said Trump, through Rudolph Giuliani and high U.S. government officials, predicated a White House meeting for Zelensky upon a Ukrainian investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and the discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind meddling in the 2016 elections.

“This isn’t a close call. We had a Ukrainian president at war with Russia, desperate for a White House meeting. The president promised a White House meeting but then he blocked the Oval Office – he blocked it – and said, ‘I need a favor.’ Not a favor to help America. A favor to help me get re-elected,” Deutch said.

“Our framers feared one day we would face a moment like this. They gave us impeachment as a safety valve – not to punish the president but to defend our elections and our Constitution. And that’s what we must do,” he said.

Val Demings, representing the Orlando area, stressed that the president released nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine only on Sept. 11 – following the whistleblower complaint, news reports that that Trump had held it up pending a promise to launch an investigation, and the opening of the congressional investigation.

“In other words, the aid was released after the president got caught,” Demings said.

“What makes me angry is that this president, President Trump, thinks he can get away with it. But he got caught. And he tried to cover it up. But we won’t let him to that.”

Talking with a reporter about the day’s proceedings, Demings argued: “I think the facts are pretty overwhelming about the president’s gross abuse of power, about the president trying to undermine an equal branch of government, about the president putting his own political interest above our national interest.”

Republicans were “struggling to defend that which is indefensible,” she continued.

“We’re not done yet, we still have a ways to go, but I think we are doing the job of laying out the information for the American people. We have not decided on which articles we are going to actually write yet,” she said, but she suggested that abuse of power and obstruction of Congress would be among them.

Allison Stevens of the Florida Phoenix’s Washington bureau contributed to this story, which has been updated to reflect witness questioning by members of Florida’s congressional delegation.