As we all know, the members of the House took it to heart when Donald Trump instructed them to fight harder during the impeachment depositions in the basement of the Capitol Building. We had only heard second hand reports of Gaetz’s attempt to barge the meeting. Now we have the transcripts, and the intensity drips of the page.
Fiona Hill’s transcript was released yesterday and it captured the standoff minutes into the session. Schiff interrupts Minority leader Rep. Jim Jordan’s opening statement, to ask whether there is anyone in the room not on the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs or Oversight committees that are conducting the closed-door portion of the investigation.
Schiff: “Mr. Gaetz, you’re not permitted to be in the room,”
Gaetz disagrees: “I am on the Judiciary Committee,” I thought the Judiciary Committee had jurisdiction over impeachment,”
Schiff asks him to “please leave.”
Minority Leader Jordan: “Mr. Chairman, really?”
Schiff: “Yes, really.”
Gaetz begins to respond: “You’re going to include Members of Congress on committees that have roles of impeachment —”
Schiff: “Mr. Gaetz, take your statement to the press. They do you no good here. So, please, absent yourself,”
Gaetz fighting back: “You’re going to have someone remove me from the hearing?”
Schiff responds with the best answer for the moment: “You’re going to remove yourself.”
Jordan got into the fray, backing Gaetz, stating that Gaetz was going to stay and listen to the testimony.
Gaetz then demanded that Schiff cite the rule by which Schiff could remove him from the meeting. Schiff responded that the depositions were closed sessions.
Jordan didn’t want to engage the “rule” request and instead tried a more practical argument around the rules: “Mr. Chairman, I think in the 20 hours of testimony we’ve heard in the two previous interviews, there have been a grand total of 12 members of Congress present,” Jordan argues. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt to have a 13th member actually hear something that, in my judgment, all 435 members of Congress should be entitled to hear.”
Schiff wasn’t buying it and shot back: “Mr. Gaetz, why don’t you take your spectacle outside? This is not how we conduct ourselves in this committee.”
Gaetz then responds in-kind: “I’ve seen how you’ve conducted yourself in this committee, and I’d like to be here to observe.”
That did it. Schiff responded with the leverage afforded the leader of the committee. “I do want to say that this dilatory tactic will come out of the minority’s time for questioning.”
The transcripts ends at that point. A period of time passes without any record and resumes at 10:43 a.m. The general counsel for the Intelligence Committee, Maher Bitar, states that the House Parliamentarian ruled that Gaetz is not allowed to be present.
Jordan slipped in one last point: “The Parliamentarian was also clear that there is no precedent, no basis for docking anyone’s time, that this was a legitimate question and not dilatory in any sense.”
The deposition then began in substance.
The anger in the room is palpable, and not without reason. Fiona Hill testified to details that Lt. Colonel Vindman addressed. She also made new allegations in critical matters we noted yesterday concerning “death threats” and that she and Ambassador Yovanovich had been subject to a “pretty ruthless, nasty defamation campaign.” This is critical testimony and damning for a White House that asserts it did nothing wrong, everything was “perfect,” and everyone should “get over it.”
These moments, ones at which we might chuckle over Gaetz’s “over the top” theatrics, are determining nothing less than the future of democracy. The showdown involved a serious House rule, one which Rep. Jordan tried to act around as a practical matter. It takes admirable discipline to remain composed (note that Gaetz did not seem composed, whereas Jordan and Schiff retained their analytical ability). These “rules” represent the law, and the principle that no one is above the law. Waving away laws or rules that may seem silly or harmless, “adding a 13th member,” is not harmless. The rules are deeply symbolic and procedurally important.
The intensity of such showdowns will only grow as hearings become public. With each damning claim and embarrassing detail, the pressure will grow among Republicans to find a way, any way, to silence the witness or the hearing itself. Tempers will flair well-beyond what we see here. It is going to be ugly and embarrassing, while also being critically important.
With respect to the future of democracy and the rule of law, one could argue that nothing is more important. Oh, and I suspect we have not heard the last from Rep. Gaetz.
email@example.com and on Twitter: @MiciakZoom