An Inside Look at the Impeachment Fight
The following is an excerpt from Rep. Matt Gaetz’s book Firebrand:
December 19, 2019
The White House. Private residence. Evening.
The towering president extended his arm, pointing as if to amplify the history lesson he was giving.
He wrote the Gettysburg Address right over there,” Trump told a few of us on a visit to the White House. “Lincoln was very melancholy. We would call it depressed today. Melancholy sounds more elegant. Everything was going wrong for the guy. His son died. His wife was not right. Worst of all, he kept losing. At the beginning of the Civil War, he lost and lost—all the early battles. He almost lost the country! Then he put a great general in charge—Ulysses S. Grant. Everyone told Lincoln that Grant was crazy. He drank too much. He used bad language. He was a real son of a bitch. A butcher. But Grant was a winner.”
President Lincoln once said of Grant, “I cannot spare this man. He fights.”
Grant knew that to defeat Lee he didn’t need beautiful formations but men grinding away at their objective, come what may. Preserving the Union required nothing less than total focus and devotion.
Like Lincoln, Trump also cultivates a team of rivals, but tonight the band of brothers—and one sister—could be permitted a bit of R and R. President Trump turned to the small group of guests that included Reps. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs, Debbie Lesko, Mike Johnson, and their spouses. All had joined for the White House Christmas party. My date was there too—way out of my league, as the president delighted in telling me in front of her.
“Lincoln had the great General Grant…and I have Matt Gaetz!” (She was impressed, though perhaps not that much. There wouldn’t be a second date.)
Some presidents didn’t allow their own vice president in the White House residence. Trump has his friends over enough to have their mail sent to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He gives tours and tells stories with the gusto and pageantry of a true showman. The Lincoln Bedroom is his favorite attraction. The House Judiciary Committee had voted out articles of impeachment earlier that day. We were in the middle of the fight for the Trump presidency. It was a fight we were winning, and we knew it. All smiles.
Days later, the left-leaning Guardian newspaper would begrudgingly publish: “So far, all impeachment has done is make Donald Trump more popular.” Indeed, Trump has an inhuman ability to absorb the most vicious attacks and turn them to his advantage. Impeachment, once considered the gravest of choices for Congress, was now just the same old politics by different, more destructive means.
Donald Trump is still America’s president. Impeachment over Trump’s communication with Ukraine was a frivolous distraction—an exorcism of sorts for Democrats who, immediately after their election loss and failed Russia investigation, still needed an outlet for the Trump Derangement Syndrome warping their electorally, if not eternally, damned souls. In the end, the constitutional system of checks and balances worked. But win a few battles though we may, understand this: they will never stop coming after him—or us.
As recently as May 18, 2020, long after the last echoes of #UkraineFirst bureaucrats and #AmericaLast liberal law professors had faded, House Democrats were still filing pleadings asserting an active impeachment investigation remains underway.
If they spent half the time legislating that they spend investigating, Americans would have better roads, cleaner air, and better health care. But it isn’t about the American people to the radical Left—it is about power and power at all costs. Trump shocked the world by taking control from the elites of Permanent Washington. They wanted it back. They still do. And they may yet get it. In politics, there are neither permanent defeats nor permanent victories. We must keep fighting.
To quit is to admit their defeat. They can’t abandon the strategy of trying to delegitimize President Trump and our movement, because they’ve seen that they can’t beat us in fair debates, open hearings, or fraud-free presidential elections. Politics used to be “win the argument, win the vote,” but if the vote can be subverted and overturned, well, why participate politically? Better to demonize, denigrate, and destroy than debate.
The Russia hoax was born of Obama’s train-wreck foreign policy and Hillary’s failed candidacy. The straight-to-DVD Ukrainian impeachment sequel followed the scuttled Russia hoax. Had they succeeded with Russia, you better believe you wouldn’t know the name of any Ukrainian president or prosecutor—not unless you were Joe Biden keeping track of familial kickbacks.
In the fights still to come, remember: Speaker Pelosi doesn’t lack political skill. Her strategy and tactics changed from Russia to Ukraine. They continue changing. We didn’t beat her then and won’t beat the radical Left now by gently lecturing in dulcet tones that people on our side should contain their “outrage.” We were at our best when we were on offense—like General Grant!
Every part of the swamp wants its shot at our president. First, the FBI failed with the Russia hoax, then the State Department crowd in Foggy Bottom failed with the Ukraine hoax. Impeachment proves that conservatives lose when we wait and see. We win when we take bold action and hit back hard—harder than they do.
I wasn’t on the Judiciary Committee just to politely take lectures from law professors who couldn’t win an election for the Mosquito Control Board but whose hatred for President Trump triggered their anti-democratic impulses. I wasn’t sleeping on a cot in the Longworth Office Building four nights a week so some #AmericaLast Georgetown School of Foreign Service graduates could substitute their foreign-funded “studied” judgment for that of those of us who had successfully earned the trust of American voters. That’s not how it works when America is at her best.
The Ukraine saga taught us how we must keep fighting in the era of Trump: unapologetically, sometimes loudly, with all we’ve got.
It started with what President Trump would later dub “a perfect call.”
September 25, 2019
The White House. Roosevelt Room.
The Wall Street Journal had explosive reporting. President Trump had, on eight occasions, directly and explicitly threatened the president of Ukraine, they alleged. Either fork over dirt on Biden to help me win an election, or I’ll withhold the weapons you want, so the story went. The Journal said a transcript existed of the call. A whistleblower had firsthand evidence!
I was about to learn that none of it was true. About a dozen senators and representatives sat nervously under the portrait of Theodore Rex, raised up on his magnificent horse in obvious triumph of some kind. We were young and old. Male and female. Moderates and right-wingers. Our commonality was that we had been selected by the White House to review the Trump-Zelensky phone call transcript for the first time. We were the supporters the president knew he needed on the front lines, going line by line.
“The reporting is false,” said White House Counsel Pat Cipollone as he handed out the transcript. “The president is going to be releasing this transcript today. Once people see it, this should all go away. I honestly don’t get what all the fuss is about.” Pat is a brilliant legal mind but, like the rest of us, he clearly misjudged the power of an unquenched craving for impeachment.
Sen. Ron Johnson is a Ukraine policy encyclopedia. After several minutes of group silent reading, he blurted out, “This is it? This is nothing. We’ve been trying to get Ukraine to clean up their act for years. President Trump was reinforcing what Republicans and Democrats have been working towards with Zelensky. He’s obviously looking out for our country.”
About time, if you ask me. Senators Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel spent billions of your dollars in the Ukraine, that most corrupt of European countries, to pay the Ukrainians not to arm up. Rather hilariously, the senators offered the same deal to Russia, which wisely realized that if Ukraine disarmed, Russia could just take what it wanted from them. And that is exactly what ended up happening.
Democrats, who once joined Senator Ron Johnson in signing bipartisan letters urging action against rampant corruption in Ukraine, would soon act as if the place were the Garden of Eden, free of all sin. They suddenly contended it was ridiculous and possibly criminal for heightened investigations into dirty deeds in the former Soviet satellite state. Trump asking President Zelensky to help was tantamount to treason!
Goldman Sachs labeled Ukraine the third-most corrupt country in the world in which to do business. It’s a big world, with lots of corrupt places. International money flows through Ukraine in—shall we say—odd ways. To attack a U.S. president for asking why is insane.
Several Biden allies and former Obama administration intelligence operatives on the call sensed a potential threat to the establishment’s brand-new (yet quite old) Great White Hope, Joe Biden. As Biden appeared likely to become the Democratic presidential nominee, these hacks couldn’t just sit back and do nothing while they watched a campaign liability created out of Biden’s son, Hunter, who had sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma—the very company under a corruption inquiry spotlight.
Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian influence-peddling racket wasn’t a secret to the Obama/Biden posse or really to anyone in Washington. When Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was preparing for confirmation hearings, the “Hunter issue” was given particular attention. George Kent, an anti-Trump witness from the State Department, confessed that Burisma’s corruption warranted even more investigation. He had America’s embassy pull out of a joint venture with Burisma over corruption concerns.
Are we really supposed to believe that a corrupt Ukrainian company, under investigation, hired Hunter Biden because of his talent rather than his access? Not even Hunter Biden believes that.
In an ABC interview, he candidly said that he probably wouldn’t have gotten the job but for his last name. There are plenty of Americans who benefit from a good surname. I sure have. But we don’t use our good names to bleed cash from bad, corrupt foreign companies while our dad is vice president.
“I did nothing wrong—and I’ll never do it again” would functionally be the confusing response from Biden.
Minority Leader McCarthy chimed in next. “What will the media say? He did mention Biden. That isn’t great.”
“It was a perfect call!” The president’s voice shot out of the speakerphone. The president is always his own best communications director and hype man. He was right. We agreed that the media would look foolish for, as they typically do, exaggerating.
Rep. Schiff would likely slither away following the disclosure, humiliated again so soon after Russia. Pelosi would move on to her next attempt to virtue signal. We had overestimated their sense of honor and underestimated their sensitivity to shame. Evidence or not, they decided the impeachment show must go on!
There was no other act or agenda from the Democrats. “Russia” had died with Muller looking more like someone who escaped a nursing home memory ward than the Trump slayer that the Democrats and their allies in the Fake News media had advertised. Ukraine would emerge now as the “go-for-broke” impeachment strategy, evidence be damned. We do stupid things when we are desperate.
October 23, 2019
House Intelligence Committee. Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility (SCIF).
“Mr. Gaetz has returned,” I overheard a staff member whisper to Adam Schiff. Much to my surprise, I had been thrown out of the SCIF days before. I assumed because the Judiciary Committee has principal jurisdiction over impeachment—and since they were impeaching my president—that I’d be able to at least observe. Not so. Well, screw that. This time I brought backup.
About fifty House Republicans and I had just held a press conference lambasting the Democrats’ secret impeachment-related proceedings going on within this “Secret Compartmentalized Information Facility.”
At this point, Speaker Pelosi had seen enough of the bumbling, disheveled Rep. Jerry Nadler in Judiciary Committee proceedings.
It was like a line change in hockey it was so instantaneous. Judiciary Democrats had been benched, and the Intelligence Committee had subbed in. You only change the lineup if you are losing. After Russia, they were.
During Russia, Democrats always believed they were “one shoe-drop” away from a massive swing in public opinion that never happened. Try as they might, nothing seemed to work. Michael Cohen! Roger Stone indicted! Manafort and Gates! A Russian troll farm! Nobody cared. While President Trump focused on provisions for the American people, the Democrats couldn’t stop spinning fiction about distant lands. To many of my hardworking constituents, it was like, Russia…Ukraine…what’s next? Are they going to accuse Trump of colluding with Narnia?
From Comey’s fake diary leaks to the unmasking of Gen. Flynn, the Russia hoax strategy was to get information out as fast as possible, to feed their narrative. That failed. Now, they were going to take their time, but time is dangerous to fraudsters. In the Ukraine sequel, the goal was to keep information secret, closed, and opaque to all those “smelly Walmart” voters who had the audacity not of hope, but to vote for Trump. No more letting witnesses like Corey Lewandowski roast helpless Democrat congressmen on live TV. No more letting Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz treat dishonest witnesses as piñatas before tens of millions of viewers.
The Democrats’ procedures for formulating their charges of impeachment in October 2019 proved to be even more secretive than Ukrainian business dealings and far more secretive, apparently, than the contents of the president’s phone calls.
That is not to say that the Schiff playbook to this point was not brilliant and well executed. It was also repugnant to justice.
First, Schiff found deep state lifers who really and sincerely believed that they were “the government” and that those of us who won elections were merely the passing fancies of uninformed voters. These people hated Trump and the populist revolution he led. Former ambassadors Bill Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch fit the bill. Department of Defense hack Fiona Hill seemed sent from central casting. She even had the snooty British accent.
Unlike Nadler, Schiff understood the importance of prepared, timed leaks to drive the news cycle. Depositions began at 9:00 AM daily. By 10:00 AM, their carefully crafted opening statement, prepared to put the president in the worst possible light, would be leaked to a media all too willing to play their part in the coup.
Stories would be written, narratives furthered, characters developed. They know that stagecraft is statecraft.
By the time Republicans drew blood during a 2:00 PM cross-examination session, the cement of the daily news cycle had already hardened. We had been playing defense, playing catch-up every day, all day. The polls were starting to show it. Days before, I called the president’s 2016 deputy campaign manager and overall “MAGA Yoda,” David Bossie. David is not a peacetime consigliere. “The Schiff Show has been going on eleven days with these closed-door hearings and handcrafted leaks,” I lamented.
“Be honest. How many of these days have we won?”
“Zerooo!” Bossie exclaimed. “You people are ineffectively defending an innocent president. Get your shit together and do something.”
He was right. We had to get Schiff out of the SCIF basement. Only open, aboveground hearings would give us the fair fight we knew we could win. Enough congressional niceties for me. I was busting in to flush the Democrats out—and I’d lead my own coalition of the willing.
Just as Schiff was asking me to leave (again), the SCIF door swung open with force. I didn’t see an arm, hand, or face, but a crutch plowing through the opening. Republican Whip and bonafide Ragin’ Cajun Rep. Steve Scalise had not long ago been shot by a Bernie Sanders devotee and Southern Poverty Law Center fan and reduced to crutches during his recovery.
“We aren’t leaving,” he announced. I was relieved to see Steve. I was only partially certain that any of my colleagues would follow me from the routine press conference to undertake the riskier invasion of the SCIF.
None disappointed. Leadership can inspire, especially in the spur of the moment. Steve Scalise inspires all who serve among us. It was an honor to have him as my wingman. He stands tall even when he hobbles. Our physical presence, our resistance some might call it, drove home the point in a manner speeches or outraged prose alone couldn’t.
The American people were being shut out of the Schiff star chamber, but we had come to jailbreak the truth. Nothing much good happens in basements, and so we wanted sunlight to disinfect the whole process. The media was forced to cover our objections, now made vivid and ripened. Rather than complaining about an unfair process, we had images and video now to show it. And every network ran the video of our operation wall to wall. Perfect. Sometimes you have to put on a show to show up.
To hear critics such as Mieke Eoyang, a former House Intelligence Committee staffer, tell it (in a stream of angry tweets that got reprinted as a Vox article), we had practically raided the Cheyenne Mountain headquarters of NORAD and put the entire apparatus of national security in jeopardy—“a VERY serious national security problem,” she tweeted. Spare me.
If anyone violated the great sanctity of the SCIF it was Adam Schiff by turning it into his mysterious kangaroo court. There was no classified information sought or offered during these interviews. Schiff wasn’t hiding from the Russians/Chinese/Iranians down in that bunker. He was hiding from us—and we found him.
“You broke the fever!” Steve Bannon’s voice and energy are unmistakable. He was the first call I took upon being reunited with my phone. Electronics aren’t allowed in the SCIF, even for righteous invaders. Bannon was right. Demonstrative action beats rigid adherence to rules written by others in a game that the people so rarely win. Most Americans would soon agree that the process used by Democrats was unfair. A fall 2019 Politico poll showed only 37 percent of voters supporting impeachment proceedings.
From this, they would never recover. The veil of legitimacy and equity was stripped. This wasn’t about Ukraine or Russia or arms—arms that Trump delivered and Obama withheld. The Democrats were being exposed as sore losers. President Trump had promised us that we would win so much that we would get “tired of winning,” but every now and again the president needs a great team to help him prevail.
December 9, 2019
House Judiciary Committee.
“You don’t get to interrupt me!” I shouted at Stanford Law Professor (and outed “Resistance” member) Pamela Karlan. When faced with the outrage of others, sometimes it’s good to have a reservoir of your own. Never grant the premise of the question, the sanctity of the venue, or the validity of the endeavor to the Left. They were trying to ruin the Trump presidency. Sure, they had contempt for us, but I had more than enough for them. It’s not every day that I, a graduate of William & Mary Law School (ranked 31), get to tell a Stanford Law professor (ranked 2) exactly what I think of those who think so little of the American people.
Once we got into a fair fight we had to win it. Then and now, Team Trump doesn’t win by playing by the “norms” of Washington aka “establishment rules.” Politicians worshipping at the altar of said norms soon find themselves in political graveyards alongside Jeb Bush, John Kerry, John Kasich, and, of course, Hillary. In fact, in each of our most recent presidential contests, the winner seems to have been the candidate who followed the script the least! Don’t play by the book if you want to write a chapter of history.
In an era in which everyone has to have a hot take, it’s always fun to scald them by reminding them of their worst ones. Karlan was an outraged and outrageous witness. She made fun of the president’s minor son’s name. On a Versus Trump podcast, she revealed how partisan she is by saying, “Conservatives can’t even stand to be around each other.”
UNC Law Professor Michael Gerhardt, another Democrat impeachment witness, had donated to Barack Obama. Four times. Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman was on record writing that Trump should be impeached for mean tweets, owning Mar-a-Lago, and attacking the Fake News. Feldman had previously admitted, also in writing, that impeachment was “primarily, or even exclusively, a tool to weaken President Trump’s chances in 2020.” Feldman gets some points for honesty there.
These were the “unbiased witnesses” Chairman Nadler called to craft a legal framework for impeachment analysis. Nadler had his own problems, targeted by an AOC-backed primary challenger in his district, and needed to put on an anti-Trump show. A Democratic primary is a dangerous place for an old, unattractive white guy in New York. Just ask now former Rep. Joe Crowley.
Both corruption and the Resistance to America’s rising conservative populism should be on plain display for the public, not cooped up in stuffy congressional hearings. I’m sure my aggressive, sometimes angry questioning of these supposed titans of legal education didn’t win me votes in faculty lounges. But we aren’t governed by them, are we? And they aren’t my audience.
They were barely my audience when they graded my exams at the William & Mary Law School. Law school “gunners” may one day nestle into cozy tenure and intellectually titillating book clubs. But Firebrands play for the win. The country club can become a funeral home. I wanted the hearings to come alive.
In subsequent hearings, I’d be criticized for attacking Hunter Biden’s crack use. Let me be clear. I have nothing against drug addicts or drug users, so long as they don’t hurt others. I’ve known and partied with plenty of both in my wilder days. Hunter admits to wandering around homeless encampments looking for crack, and that doesn’t make him a bad guy—though it does make him unlikely to be a legit Eastern European energy savant. Hunter Biden couldn’t even resolve a dispute with Hertz Car Rental after leaving his crack pipe, ID, and Secret Service detail’s business card in a wrecked vehicle.
That doesn’t make him an unsympathetic human. But he probably wasn’t leading dispute resolution for Burisma in any competent, non-corrupt way.
July 24, 2019: Conclusion of Mueller Testimony.
Longworth House Office Building. White House operator connects. “You were amazing. Everyone in the White House was glued to the TV when you took apart Mueller. Nobody said a word. You kicked his ass!” Trump said.
“Thank you, Mr. President. This bullshit is finally over. Let’s get back to making America great again.”
“I never stopped,” he replied, not knowing what was coming.
The perfect call with the president of Ukraine occurred the next day. And so the coup attempt against Trump revived the day after that. Beria’s cynical attitude, as I mentioned above, was “show me the man and I’ll show you the crime”—a Soviet mindset that resulted in the prosecutions (over non-Russian matters) of Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Rick Gates.
Ukraine would then become the more narrowly focused “show me the president and I’ll show you the impeachment,” no matter how scanty the evidence.
If an investigation requires made-up evidence to proceed, it is a corrupt investigation. With Russia, an FBI lawyer altered emails presented to a secret court in order to spy on Dr. Carter Page. With Ukraine, Rep. Adam Schiff—who once moonlighted as a screenwriter—made up a fake call transcript and theatrically performed it before God and everyone. It was a disgrace to the House—for which Schiff should face ethical sanctions, if Pelosi’s House really cares about ethics at all.
The Ukraine controversy teaches us that the establishment is the establishment for a reason. It didn’t happen by accident. It happened because they don’t take days off, even after a stinging defeat. Their Russia failure didn’t deter them from taking the bait on Ukraine. They grind away relentlessly, like the brain-dead zombies they are. It’s why it has taken someone with the stamina and magic of Donald J. Trump to beat them over and over again.
Russia and Ukraine were different fights. And we’ll have evolving battles ahead to maintain our populist movement. But there is one enemy we always see on the battlefield of ideas: the corrupt media.
They will never stop coming for us, so we must come for them first.
Matt Gaetz is a United States congressman representing Florida’s 1st district.