Trump loyalist accused of being president’s ‘eyes and ears’ after crashing closed-door impeachment hearing

Chris Riotta

A loyal supporter of Donald Trump has been removed from a closed-door impeachment hearing after House officials ruled he had no right to be there.

Matt Gaetz, a Republican congressman from Florida, had attempted to crash a meeting put together by the House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees — the official congressional panels spearheading an impeachment inquiry into the president.

There was just one problem: Mr Gaetz does not serve on any of the three panels handling the inquiry. He was swiftly ejected from the room and stayed outside shortly after to complain to reporters about the situation.

Mr Gaetz argued that, because the House judiciary committee, of which he is a member, has previously led impeachment enquiries, he should have been allowed in the room.

“It’s not like I’m on agriculture,” Mr Gaetz said. “What are the Democrats so afraid of?”

The Republican congressman was attempting to enter the closed-door hearing with Fiona Hill, Mr Trump’s British-born former top aide on Russia and ex-deputy assistant to the president.

Mr Gaetz has repeatedly called for an end to the impeachment inquiry, and on Monday was roundly mocked on Twitter for trying to crash the meeting.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, tweeted: “I suspect there is concern that Gaetz entered the room to be Trump’s eyes and ears.”

Elie Honig, another former federal prosecutor, said: “This is a mob tactic - send a tough guy into the courtroom to glare at the witness.”

“I’ve seen much tougher guys than Gaetz do it,” he added.

As the former prosecutor noted, Mr Gaetz previously tweeted a seemingly threatening message to Mr Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen the night before he was set to testify before the House oversight committee.

“Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat,” he wrote at the time. “I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”

The House ethics committee later launched an investigation into incendiary tweets he posted about the president’s former attorney. He later apologised and was cleared of wrongdoing by the Florida bar.

Ms Hill was testifying before the House panels surrounding Mr Trump’s phone call with Ukraine, which sparked allegations of the president abusing his power by seeking foreign aid in his 2020 re-election efforts.

A memorandum of a phone call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky showed Mr Trump requesting a “favour” from Mr Zelensky before discussing one of his political rivals, Joe Biden, a 2020 contender for the White House. The memorandum shows Mr Trump urging Mr Zelensky to launch an investigation into Mr Biden and his son, Hunter, despite there being no evidence of wrongdoing by either of them.

He also asked Mr Zelensky to look into the origins of the US probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election to seemingly support his long-held claims that Ukraine was responsible for US election meddling in 2016 rather than the Kremlin.

That claim defies the findings of the US intelligence community, the US Senate and Mr Trump’s own CIA director, who confirmed Russia was behind a multi-pronged effort to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

Following his latest stunt, Mr Gaetz tweeted: “They are trying to overturn the result of a national election for President from behind closed doors”.

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