'Absent Yourself': The Tense Exchange With Matt Gaetz After He Crashed an Impeachment Testimony

Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had just finished his opening remarks. Next up was the panel's ranking member, Representative Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

But the outspoken Donald Trump defender was able to get out only two sentences before Schiff interjected.

"Excuse me, could we suspend? Do we have any members here that are not members of the three committees authorized to be present?" the California Democrat asked. He turned his attention to one member: Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). "Mr. Gaetz, you're not permitted to be in the room."

It was October 14, and the committees spearheading the closed-door impeachment inquiry were about to hear from Fiona Hill, President Donald Trump's former top Russia adviser on the National Security Council. But Gaetz was seated inside the secure room in the basement of the Capitol where witness depositions are conducted, leading to his presence to be noticed by Schiff.

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Gaetz is a member of the Judiciary Committee. Although the panel drafts and advances articles of impeachment, the inquiry has been conducted by the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees because it centers on the Ukraine scandal. Not having a seat on one of the three panels meant no access to the SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, for witness testimonies, according to rules set forth by Schiff.

Gaetz has been one of the most vocal Trump allies who's derided the closed-door proceedings and has, along with his GOP colleagues, repeatedly demanded that he and others not on one of the three committees of jurisdiction be allowed to attend. Just a week after the tense October 14 exchange that occurred between Gaetz, Schiff and others, the Sunshine State Republican helped lead some two dozen Republican members in storming the SCIF during a separate witness interview and delayed the deposition for several hours.

Below is what occurred inside the SCIF on October 14 once Gaetz's presence was noticed by Schiff, according to a transcript of last month's deposition of Hill, which was released Friday.

Matt Gaetz crashes impeachment hearing
Flanked by about two dozen House Republicans, Representative Matt Gaetz speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 23. The Florida Republican held the conference to call for transparency in the impeachment inquiry. Getty/Photo by Alex Wong

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Gaetz: "I am on the Judiciary Committee."

Schiff: "Judiciary Committee is not a part of this hearing."

Gaetz: "I thought the Judiciary Committee had jurisdiction over impeachment."

Schiff: "Mr. Gaetz, you're not permitted to be in the room. Please leave."

At that point, Jordan went to bat for Gaetz. The Ohio Republican and other Trump allies have accused Schiff of breaking House rules throughout the inquiry process and have demanded greater transparency.

Jordan: "Mr. Chairman, really?"

Schiff: "Yes, really."

Gaetz: "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: "You're going to have someone remove me from the hearing?"

Schiff: "You're going to remove yourself, Mr. Gaetz."

Jordan: "Mr. Gaetz is going to stay and listen to the testimony."

Schiff: "Mr. Gaetz, you're going to leave the room."

Gaetz: "No, I think I have a right to be—is there a rule you can cite as to why I am not—"

Schiff: "You're not a member of this committee. This is conducted in closed session. You're not permitted to be here."

Gaetz: "I'm on the Judiciary Committee."

Schiff: "Mr. Gaetz, please absent yourself from the committee. It's the ruling of the chair you're not permitted to be here. Please leave the committee."

Jordan pointed to members' lack of attendance in the depositions, arguing that allowing one more person to attend would do no harm. Despite 109 lawmakers—including 47 Republicans—being able to attend, only a fraction of them have been seen by the press coming and going from the SCIF throughout several witness testimonies.

"You're not permitted to be here. That is the ruling of the chair, and you are required to leave," Schiff reiterated, citing House and deposition rules. "Mr. Gaetz, you are simply delaying the procedures in violation of the rules. Please absent yourself."

Gaetz continued to contest.

Gaetz: "Which rule?"

Schiff: "Mr. Gaetz, why don't you take your spectacle outside? This is not how we conduct ourselves in this committee."

Gaetz: "I've seen how you've conducted yourself in this committee, and I'd like to be here to observe."

Schiff: "We'll wait until Mr. Gaetz leaves before we begin. I do want to say that this dilatory tactic will come out of the minority's time for questioning."

Gaetz: "This isn't dilatory. You can begin anytime you like."

Gaetz eventually left the room and the interview with Hill resumed.

'Absent Yourself': The Tense Exchange With Matt Gaetz After He Crashed an Impeachment Testimony | Politics