Matt Gaetz & his GOP accomplices committed a serious crime, endangering our national security. There were no consequences.
ON OCTOBER 23, 2019, the macrocephalic Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz and a gaggle of his Republican accomplices breached a SCIF. This was a violation of federal law and, more importantly, a serious danger to national security. The smirking little prick was so pleased with this act of performative outrage that he had a press release at the ready, which he dropped the same day. It read:
Washington, D.C. — Today, Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-01) and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (LA-01) hosted a press conference in the Capitol, demanding more transparency and fairness in Democrats’ impeachment proceedings with more than 50 of their Republican colleagues. Immediately following the press conference, Reps. Gaetz and Scalise led their colleagues into the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), where they attempted to observe the deposition. Upon entering the room, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (CA-28) left the room with the witness, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura Cooper.
Rep. Gaetz, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has long been a vocal critic of the Democrats’ secretive, closed-door impeachment inquiry. Last week, Rep. Gaetz attempted to attend a deposition, but Intelligence Committee Chairman Schiff ordered him to be removed from the room.
This happened, I should clarify, during the first impeachment inquiry into the high crimes and misdemeanors of Donald John Trump (for extorting Ukraine) and not the second impeachment inquiry (for inciting insurrection). Chronologically, it was several Big Lies ago.
Gaetz knew damn well, as all of the sentient GOP must have, that Trump was guilty. Had the former guy been wrongly accused, they would have let the matter play out behind closed doors, as all investigations of this kind are supposed to do, confident in his acquittal. But the scumbag Congressman felt the need to muddy the waters, to confuse the American people—and to thrust his enormous head into the spotlight.
“I'm gathered here with dozens of my Congressional colleagues, underground in the basement of the Capitol, and behind those doors they intend to overturn the results of an American presidential election,” he said, in prepared remarks to the media that now read as eerie. “We want to know what is going on.”
Gaetz conveniently omitted the fact that some of his Congressional colleagues were actually cleared to be in the SCIF that day, but chose not to participate in the formal process, opting to have a pizza-and-faux-outrage party instead.
“It’s only reasonable we would have questions, but so far Adam Schiff’s impeachment inquiry has been marked by secret interviews, selective links, and weird theatrical performances of transcripts that never happened, and lies about contact with the whistleblower.”
Yes, that was Matt Gaetz—the same attention whore who wore a gasmask to the Capitol to mock masking up in the early days of the pandemic…
…the same Fox News fixture who went to Wyoming to lead the GOP charge against stalwart Liz Cheney…
—accusing mild-mannered Adam Schiff of weird theatrical performances! Gaetz was somehow able to keep a straight face, probably because of all the Botox. “We are going to try and go in there,” he said, “and we’re going to try to figure out what is going on behalf of the millions of Americans that we represent, who want to see Congress working for them, and not obsessed with attacking a president who we believe has not done anything to deserve impeachment.”
Well, whatever Gaetz and the GOP gaggle might have believed, Trump did lots of things to deserve impeachment. Part Two of the Mueller Report is a veritable roadmap to indictment, and that was before the Ukraine stuff came out; before the sabotage of the pandemic response that needlessly killed 400,000 Americans and counting; before the January 6 besieging of the Capitol. Gaetz and the other Congressional scofflaws raised a ruckus intended to distract from the actual impeachment crimes—and to cast doubt on the integrity of the process. To do so, they happily sacrificed national security, as Wired reports:
It’s hard to overstate the extent to which the GOP members involved in the ruckus either didn’t know or didn't care about the kinds of risks they were inviting. Several of them not only brought their phones into the SCIF, they proudly tweeted that they had done so. Representative Alex Mooney (R-West Virginia) appears to have tried to livestream the affair, but settled for an audio dispatch.
First, this was a colossal failure of the SCIF’s on-the-ground security. I get that these were important Congressmen—hateful orangutan Steve Scalise was somehow the second-highest-ranked House Republican—but national security is national security. Force was absolutely justified that day by the sentries on guard. If not lethal force, at least a physical attempt to bar entry. As it played out, alas, your average nightclub bouncer would have done a better job protecting the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura Cooper, in that SCIF. The Republicans were allowed to run amok.
Second, there were no consequences for this brazenly illegal act, for the rogue Congressmen “making a mockery of national security,” as Wired put it. All of those seditionists should have been, and should still be, charged. In hindsight, Gaetz, Scalise, Alex Mooney, and the other GOP Congressional clowns overwhelming the guards to breach the SCIF on October 23, 2019 foreshadowed the MAGA insurrectionists overwhelming the Capitol Police to besiege the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
For better or worse, these men (they were all men, at least in the photo) lead by example.
One act begat the next.
In the early days of the Cold War, every time the U.S. would level a critique about Stalin for some heinous human rights violation, such as the time he starved tens of millions of Ukrainians to death on purpose, the Soviets would respond with: “And you are lynching Negroes.” They did this so predictably, and so often, that the Russian expression А у вас негров линчуют—literally, in 2021 parlance, “And in your country, you lynch Black people”—became shorthand for that entire line of tu quoque reasoning. Republicans have adopted this fallacious KGB tactic wholesale. Like, when our side says, “Don Junior and Ivanka profited from their father’s presidency,” our adversaries bring up Hunter Biden’s board seat in Ukraine. Or when our side says, “Donald Trump is a serial rapist,” MAGA invokes the alleged crimes of Bill Clinton. I loathe this lazy rhetorical device, just as I dislike the “Could you imagine if Obama did [fill in the blank]? We’d never hear the end of it!”
However, I don’t think it’s tu quoque to point out that, last month, when the Georgia state legislator Park Cannon knocked on the door of the governor’s office—which is not a SCIF—while Governor Kemp was signing an historic voter suppression bill, she was handcuffed, arrested, and dragged off by two burly state troopers who, with their crew cuts and their clean-shaved white skin, looked like they should be on a KKK recruitment flyer. Cannon, who is Black, was charged with two felonies for knocking on Brian Kemp’s door: obstruction of law enforcement and disruption of the General Assembly. Matt Gaetz and his fellow (white) accomplices, meanwhile—who did not just knock on a door but actually committed a serious federal crime—were neither removed nor arrested nor charged. Instead, they were allowed to have pizza. This is exactly the sort of egregious racism that inspired the Soviets to devise А у вас негров линчуют in the first place.
I don’t want to minimize what Matt Gaetz did with and to the underage girls he was (allegedly) trafficking. It is sickening how infrequently rapists and sexual assailants are prosecuted for their crimes against women, and I hope that that odious, piece of shit human being pays bigly for his. But is it asking too much that Gaetz, Scalise, and the others who stormed the SCIF that day face federal charges? Can we have some consequences, please?
There are those who believe that justice should always operate quietly—that we should hear nary a peep from law enforcement and federal prosecutors until it’s time to pounce. In a perfect world, that may be true. But this is not a perfect world. We are fighting a narrative war, where one of our two political parties seeks to overthrow democracy. Silence, even if well-intentioned, allows those enemies of the republic to control the narrative. It also allows wild, unfounded rumors to enter the discourse. The policy of “We don’t comment on ongoing investigations” is a quaint relic of a bygone era. The Intelligence Community’s silence on Trump’s ties to Russian intelligence and to organized crime helped Donald John Trump win the nomination. James Comey’s ill-advised adherence to GLOMAR regarding Crossfire Hurricane handed Trump the election. Robert Mueller’s long silence, and his trainwreck of a hearing after the completion of the Report, ceded the narrative to disinformation agents—both Trump’s and Twitter’s—for months and months, ensuring that what most Americans took away from his team’s hard work were the two meaningless words NO COLLUSION.
In a vacuum, it makes sense why the IC was tight-lipped, why Comey GLOMAR’d, why Mueller let the tome he released during Spring Break speak for him. Taken together, however, those high-minded decisions came this close to toppling our democracy.
It is not only within our right to “[demand that] the DOJ tell all of us what’s going on”—it’s necessary for our democracy to survive. FDR didn’t issue a statement saying he couldn’t comment on the ongoing war, and then keep mum about it for four years; he had fireside chats all the time—not to discuss troop movements and strategy, but to reassure the American people. We need reassurance. I need reassurance. Our nation has been traumatized by four years of Trump, a full year of the pandemic, and, three months ago to the day, a violent attack on our Capitol by insurrectionists, abetted by sitting Republican politicians. This is not the moment for “Americans [to] go be informed with hundreds of court filings.”
We need our leaders to speak to us! Merrick Garland is a brilliant man. He’s perfectly capable of giving a weekly news conference where he reveals few details but reassures us that, yes, the Department of Justice is on the case. After five years of Trump and the Republicans ignoring the law with few consequences, this is no longer a given—as the lack of charges against the SCIF invaders makes clear. I have faith in Merrick Garland and the Justice Department. But after the catastrophic silence of the IC, of Comey, and of Mueller, faith is not enough.
Photo credit: Official Matt Gaetz press release photo. Gaetz speaks after breaching the SCIF.