With the Mueller investigation concluded, just how are the recent activities of the House Judiciary Committee effectively “impeachment in drag,” in the eyes of committee member Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)?
And why was he prevented from speaking at the last hearing involving Attorney General William Barr, the one Barr himself declined to attend?
In this episode of “American Thought Leaders,” Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek sits down with Gaetz to explore a range of issues related to the origins of the Russia collusion investigation against candidate Donald Trump, including the significance of the upcoming release of the 55 Russia investigation transcripts from the House Intelligence Committee.
Jan Jekielek: Now that we know that the Mueller report basically told us there’s no Russia collusion, the attorney general found—based on what he found in the report—that there was no obstruction, a lot of people are actually going further behind the scenes. That’s something we’ve been reporting on for a while. And, actually, you’ve been very interested for some time—we’ve been watching that. Before I jump into that, what people call Spygate—or SetUpGate is another moniker that I’ve heard—I wanted to talk about this House Judiciary Committee hearing where you were basically cut off. What do you think that was all about?
Rep. Matt Gaetz: Well, something very strange is going on in the House Judiciary Committee. They’re actually trying to have impeachment in drag. They don’t want to call the hearings impeachment hearings, but they want to make them look and feel as much like impeachment as possible, despite the lack of underlying evidence that would support it.
So at the last hearing, I had a series of questions about the processes and procedures that the committee was using, and the extent to which they departed from our normal practices. And they really were an effort by the committee to dress up oversight activity to be as negative toward the president as possible.
I couldn’t even get recognized by the committee chairman to ask those legitimate procedural questions, because I think what’s happening with my Democratic colleagues right now is that they’re so flummoxed with the lack of underlying facts to support what they’ve been saying to the American people for the last two years that they’ve lost control over their management of the House of Representatives.
Mr. Jekielek: Impeachment in drag. That’s quite the imagery. So, actually, we had a headline—and this is very apropos—”House Democrats Plan Contempt Vote on Attorney General Barr … for Following the Law.” And so I think you get what’s being suggested here. Do you agree?
Rep. Gaetz: That’s clearly what’s happening. General Barr is stuck between the law and a group of angry Democrats trying to justify their lies over the last two years.
You know, the attorney general is not allowed to release information if that information is linked to grand jury activity in the absence of court approval to do so. And so Democrats have now made a demand that he do that. The law doesn’t allow him to do that. And they’re using this to manufacture a constitutional crisis in their mind or discord between the executive and legislative branch. They’re literally trying to go and pick fights where none need occur, because the attorney general has already released 92 percent of the Mueller report. Even more is available to Chairman [Jerrold] Nadler, if he’d like to go review it. He hasn’t taken the opportunity to do that.
They’re trying to make it look like this great source of discord, but it’s this mouse of an issue that roars like a lion.
Mr. Jekielek: Can [Barr] even be held in contempt for refusing to break the law?
Rep. Gaetz: Congress can hold anybody in contempt that they’d like to for any purpose. And, as a matter of fact, Eric Holder was held in contempt because he refused to show up. He refused to produce documents and answer questions about [Operation] Fast and Furious, a terrible scandal that was uncovered by Republicans in Congress who were engaged in diligent oversight. Here, it would be very bizarre for the legislative branch of government to hold someone in contempt in the executive branch of government when, if the person in the executive branch did what Congress wanted, he could potentially be in trouble with the judicial branch of government. And so, again, it is a manufactured crisis.
Here’s what we ought to do. We ought to take the Mueller findings on collusion at face value. We ought to take the legal analysis from America’s top lawyer, the attorney general, on obstruction at face value. And then we’ve got to figure out how in the world this happened. How did we get to a point where political opposition research supplied by a known liar British spy, funded by political opponents, overseen by Obama officials in the White House, and then polluted by Russians trying to undermine the American election—how [did that become] the fuel for an investigation that really should have sputtered out very quickly?
I think that’ll tell the true story of where we need to make reforms in this country so that this never happens again.
Mr. Jekielek: So the attorney general has been saying that he’s bringing together a number of disparate existing investigations, I think, with the IG (inspector general), FBI, and some others. And he’s getting [FBI Director] Christopher Wray’s cooperation in doing this. Can you speak to that a little bit further?
Rep. Gaetz: Yeah. There are a number of different people in our government looking at the origins of this investigation. The Senate Intelligence Committee is engaged in that work, [and] individual Republicans in the Congress are continuing that effort that really uncovered a lot of the institutional bias that you saw over the last two years exposed. And then you’ve got, as you said, the inspector general and [U.S. Attorney John] Huber.
Huber was appointed by Rod Rosenstein to really investigate these leaks and how it is that the FBI and Department of Justice transitioned from investigatory prosecuting entities to public relations management firms. They really seem to be obsessed with the media and what the media could do for them in enhancing their particular view of facts as they saw them, or utilizing the media to reinforce the bias that had so badly infected the senior levels at the FBI and Department of Justice.
That interplay, I think, could be very dangerous for the American people, if we don’t find a way to stop our investigators from thinking that they’re political hacks.
Mr. Jekielek: All these attacks are basically inherently politicized, right?
Rep. Gaetz: Well, the attacks on the attorney general are. I think that the critique that we have of systems that allowed a secret court to review evidence from a known liar polluted by Russians is not political, because it could happen to either side. I think that’s what my Democratic colleagues don’t really get. Russia, China, Iran, North Korea—the countries that are trying to undermine democracy globally are going to continue to try to attack U.S. elections with a variety of different tools.
And rather than having our Democratic colleagues so obsessed with President Trump—probably the one guy we are certain did not collude with a foreign government because of the investigation that went into him—instead of focusing on him, let’s focus on our broader resiliency and what we can do to make sure that we’re prepared for those attacks and that we don’t allow unelected people who think they know best to become susceptible to use information developed by Russia to undermine our faith in the outcome of our election.
Mr. Jekielek: So you were one of the first people to talk about this IG leak report that you mentioned earlier. Any updates on that for us?
Rep. Gaetz: No updates, other than what the inspector general has shared with me. You’ll recall when the inspector general published his review of how the Hillary Clinton investigation was handled, he was very critical of the way that people tended to migrate from the Clinton investigation onto the Trump–Russia investigation at the FBI and then subsequently onto the Mueller probe.
But, during that report, he articulated concern over members of the media providing tickets to sporting events or concerts or other gifts to people in the FBI to get information. And what we’ve now seen on the other side is that you had a lot of people at the FBI who were super eager to control the public discourse on an investigation, more so than they were actually doing the investigating, the stuff we hired them to do.
So we should see this summer, I think, the results of the IG’s work. And my expectation is that mainstream media news outlets will have a lot of explaining to do regarding their very nefarious undermining of the work of the FBI and Department of Justice.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. So, this summer … It’s hard to wait, right? So tell me a little bit more about what you and folks that you’re working with have been investigating?
Rep. Gaetz: It’s really troubling to us that any authorization for intelligence collection would occur in this country as a consequence of politics. Intelligence collection—spying, whatever you want to call it—really is one of the strongest tools our government has, and it should be used very sparingly. And when we see Peter Strzok and Lisa Page texting about POTUS wanting to be notified about everything, or the White House is running this, regarding their efforts to poke and prod at the Trump campaign, it raises concern that it wasn’t a legitimate investigative inquiry, but rather a desire to undermine a political opponent that led to the investigation beginning.
We are certain that it is not an open question that fueled this investigation. According to the testimony even of Andy McCabe, no friend of the president, this dossier that was developed by Christopher Steele, a British spy, was the essential element that kept our investigators engaged in a pursuit of the president and his campaign. That dossier was never disclosed as having been authored by a liar, funded by political opponents, and then polluted by Russians who wanted to undermine our election. I really think that that ought to be the focus of our work now going forward: How do we become more resilient to those types of attacks in the future?
Mr. Jekielek: So you’re actually looking into trying to make sure that these sorts of things can’t happen again already?
Rep. Gaetz: Yeah.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. We have a number of columnists and a number of journalists that are working on this exact issue. They are very curious and have lots of questions. For example, do you have a sense when all the 55 transcripts from the House Intel Committee will be released? Do you have any idea?
Rep. Gaetz: I don’t, but I have encouraged the director of national intelligence publicly to release those transcripts, and here’s why that’s such an insightful question. The very people that oversaw the beginnings of this investigation—the very people who may have engaged other Western intelligence operations to spy on the Trump campaign, to entrap the Trump campaign, to try to run intelligence of the Trump campaign—those people gave testimony under oath before the United States Congress. And while I don’t know what lies within those transcripts, it’s my belief that they will be very illuminating as to the thoughts and methodologies that were used to take this unprecedented act of spying on a rival campaign. And so I’ve encouraged the director of national intelligence: Let’s get these out in the public. And the four I’m most interested in: Comey, McCabe, Clapper, and Brennan.
Mr. Jekielek: Got it. You mentioned you were speaking with Huber, but what about Horowitz or Mueller, even, have you been speaking with them?
Rep. Gaetz: I’ve spoken with Mr. Horowitz, but I’ve not spoken with Mr. Mueller. And it’s my expectation that he will be before the Congress, and he’s got to answer some pretty serious questions about how he assembled his team. I mean, how in the world do you go and hire the very people who were defending Hillary Clinton in court against public disclosure lawsuits to then go and pursue Donald Trump? And even the inspector general, a Democrat appointed by President Obama, said that the HR policies of Robert Mueller to go and take the people that had been working on the Clinton investigation and use them to go after President Trump was beyond any appropriate rationale for staffing that operation.
Mr. Jekielek: Do you know [whether] “The Horowitz Report,” the bigger report, has been delivered to its subjects or responses?
Rep. Gaetz: I don’t know where Mr. Horowitz is in that process. Again, his expectation is that his report would be released later this summer. But it is frequently the case that these reports get pushed back because just as they’re about to become public, you can often get new whistleblowers with new facts and new information that can inform on the results. That’s what happened when Horowitz was investigating the Clinton email scandal and how a yellow brick road was paved for her by the Department of Justice to alleviate any consequence. He continued to get more and more information that showed us how really unfortunate that played out.
Mr. Jekielek: Are you aware of any other investigations that aren’t, basically, out in the open?
Rep. Gaetz: Well, you’ve got the Senate Intelligence Committee that’s investigating, obviously, as well. But based on the information we are now obtaining about the potential involvement of other Western intelligence services in undermining the Trump campaign, I would not be surprised if, in the very near future, we have to have a review of what other three-letter agencies were involved and with whom did they speak.
Mr. Jekielek: And now that Rod Rosenstein is retiring—basically stepping down—do you think he’ll be called to testify?
Rep. Gaetz: I don’t know if Democrats plan to do oversight over private citizens. It’s typically the case that when we’re doing legitimate oversight, it’s with the people who are engaged in the operations of government, so that our policy can inform on the work that they’re doing. So I don’t expect Mr. Rosenstein to be before the Congress, but frankly, with Democrats infected with impeachment fever, you never know who they’re going to try to bring before the grand circus that has become the House Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Jekielek: You’d mentioned that a number of reports are coming in the summer. I think those may actually be the bombshells that we’ve been waiting for. I don’t know. But where do you expect things will go over the next few months?
Rep. Gaetz: I think the attorney general is going to have to make the initial binary decision about prosecutable offenses or not prosecutable offenses as it relates to the people that fueled these investigations and potentially made misrepresentations to the court. There are also actions that can be taken by the FISA court, if they feel as though they were lied to, if someone engaged in prosecutorial misconduct. And so whether it’s people’s professional licenses or whether it’s, in fact, a prosecution of a crime, I think the attorney general’s got to make that binary decision. And our job is to do everything we can to take the information we find and to put it into the public square. I think that we’ve had a lot more intelligent discussion about what really has gone on here as a consequence of seeing the emails and text messages and reflections of bias that seemed to drive a lot of the activity against the president.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s been said that basically the process of these last two years essentially of the Mueller report and all of the media coverage of it and all the leaks, in a sense, I think Victor Davis Hanson said this, that it’s kind of backfiring actually. It’s provided a lot of evidence that there were things that happened that weren’t quite right.
Rep. Gaetz: You’re right. And it has also backfired in that it really accomplished a lot of Putin’s objectives. I know that many of my colleagues want to know when Robert Mueller came to the conclusion that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia. Because if you think about it, every day that Mueller continues his investigation after arriving at that fundamental conclusion, is a day that he’s doing Putin’s bidding because it has Americans questioning whether or not their president is a Russian agent. That was baloney at all times. And the fact that we allowed that to continue to impair the president’s ability to use all of the tools that comes with the presidency to lead the free world is a real travesty.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s still a ton of confusion about that from what I see—if you read the major headlines and things like that.
Rep. Gaetz: And, you know, it’s not Republicans who set the expectations as to the outcome of these investigations, right? You had Democrats literally calling the president of the United States a Russian agent. When my colleagues and I stepped forward and said that this was a coup being attempted by senior people in our government, elected by nobody, to destabilize the presidency, I had the mainstream media acting like I was wearing a tinfoil hat. But the reality is that was true. Andrew McCabe came out and said: Yeah, we were out there counting noses to see if we could access the 25th Amendment to undo the results of a democratic election in the United States. That’s the type of dynamic that I hope we can get beyond in our politics going forward.
Mr. Jekielek: So do you think that’s at all possible?
Rep. Gaetz: You know, I have been listening frequently to the commentary of professor Alan Dershowitz. And his view political viewpoint isn’t mine—he’s a liberal, I’m a conservative. But he makes an argument about decriminalizing our politics—that we can have political disagreements, we can be angry and passionate about the results of an election, but when every election has to result in sort of a round of criminal indictments, it draws too closely together our criminal code and our vibrant political discourse.
Mr. Jekielek: It just makes it a lot less meaningful … when a real crime is committed.
Rep. Gaetz: Yeah, we don’t want this to be the new normal, but we’ve got to get to a bipartisan solution set here. The challenges we have with foreign interference in elections are too big for either one party to solve on their own. We actually need to be rowing in the same direction on this one.
And that’s why it’s so frustrating for me [that] when we find Democratic ideas that are good ideas and we try to champion them, Democrats back away from their own agenda. [Rep.] Adam Schiff, himself, had a bill to reform the secret court process to have more open transparency regarding the views of the judges, to publish opinions down the road, to develop a sense of legal doctrine—all things that are good ideas. And when I went to co-sponsor … or when I went to introduce, I should say, Schiff’s legislation, he would not co-sponsor his own bill.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. I didn’t know that.
Rep. Gaetz: It really ripens in our mind whether or not Democrats really even want to solve this problem or whether their objective is solely to demagogue it. Because they can’t argue with the policies of the Trump administration right now. We have 3.2 percent growth. It is twice what the Obama administration expected for our country during this time, from a growth standpoint. So we are humming as a country. We are hot as an economy. And so, Democrats have to try to delegitimize the man because they can’t argue with the policies that are lifting up the dreams of the American people.
Mr. Jekielek: And I guess you’re arguing that the beneficiaries of all the madness are these foreign intelligence services?
Rep. Gaetz: Yeah. I don’t think that it’s good for the country that you had a 22-month investigation that raised a doubt in the minds of many as to the president’s allegiance to the country he was elected to lead. Think about what was going on during these moments in time. You’ve got the president trying to denuclearize North Korea. When he took office, you had, at times, tests only a few weeks away from each other, and North Korea was rapidly enhancing their capabilities.
Now, to box North Korea in, you’ve got to be able to work with Russia and China, otherwise, they undermine our sanctions regimes. And so he’s there trying to work with Russia and China to box in North Korea to denuclearize the Peninsula. And, meanwhile, he’s having to fight off these completely baseless accusations that he is an agent of the Russian government. That wasn’t good for our country, and I think the people responsible for perpetrating these lies need to be held to account.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.