On Saturday, CNN host Michael Smerconish grilled Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) about the implications of the new text messages showing how President Donald Trump tried to coerce the Ukrainian government into helping him get dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden — and pushed back hard when Gaetz, one of Trump's most consistent congressional cheerleaders, refused to even acknowledge the basic facts.
"What kind of precedent would we be sitting for future elections if the president's request for foreign assistance in our elections are normalized?" asked Smerconish.
"I have to reject the premise of the question," said Gaetz. "I think the president's context for these discussions isn't forward leaning into the next election ... I think you see two men on the same page to leverage against Europe to get Europe to do more for the Ukraine."
"You say that, but you look at the text messages," said Smerconish. "We were leveraging — our diplomats and Rudy Giuliani — leveraging these meetings for the president, leveraging these moneys. It seems like we were force-feeding him to do what the president wanted to do relative to the Bidens or he wasn't going to get what he was looking for, including the aid."
"Let's just remember when evaluating this aid that President Obama withheld aid indefinitely. So this notion like to withhold the aid is a uniquely impeachable offense I think would be counter to the experience we had under the previous president," said Gaetz. "You have [former Ambassador Bill] Taylor citing a story that was very well leaked by a person trying to make this look like a quid pro quo, while there are legitimate reasons to withhold aid. If you don't think there are issues to withhold aid, your issues are with President Obama, not President Trump."
"President Obama never said, I'm going to withhold aid unless you look at Mitt Romney," countered Smerconish.
"Neither did President Trump, Michael. Where did President Trump say that?" said Gaetz.
"President Trump through the text, whistleblower complaint which I think the complainant didn't even have benefit of listening to the phone call or see the memo that recast it," said Smerconish. "But it's irrelevant because so much corroboration has now been put forth. Let me ask the question this way, if the president — I will qualify it as a question, if the president were leveraging American tax dollars for the benefit of first getting dirt on a political opponent, you'd agree that would be crossing a line, right?"
"Yes, if a president engaged in a quid pro quo where they said you have to give me dirt on your opponent or I'm not going to give you aid, that would be an abuse of power," acknowledged Gaetz.
"So you don't think that happened here?"
"No, I think Russia — clearly it didn't happen here," said Gaetz. "What you have is the president and Attorney General Barr working around the world to try to figure out why there was a corrupt Russia investigation that tore our country apart for two years that didn't result in any evidence of a criminal conspiracy. This is an open and obvious thing Bill Barr even said he would do during his confirmation hearings, so it shouldn't surprise people."
"The president's defense is to say, hey, I'm all about ridding the world of corruption, if there were one other instance where the president withheld or threatened to withheld funding because he first wanted a crackdown on corruption, I think his hand would be strengthened," pointed out Smerconish.
"He's done that, Michael. Check out the Northern Triangle, check out Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador," insisted Gaetz. "America is not going to be the patsy for the world ... Hunter Biden makes $50,000 a month for reasons I don't understand. Do you think he would make that if his father wasn't vice president?"
"I believe Hunter Biden put his father in an awkward position in terms of appearances, but that's not the same thing as leveraging American tax dollars and saying to someone who desperately needs our aid as a foreign leader, you're not getting it unless this investigation takes place," replied Smerconish.