Matt Gaetz sees ‘brush back’ in being kept off Trump’s defense team

Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill, suspects a senior White House aide pushed to keep him off the president’s impeachment defense team — weeks after the Florida Republican voted to rein in Trump’s war powers.

Gaetz (R-Fla.) was in the mix to become one of Trump’s impeachment advisors, a group of House Republicans who are expected to assist the White House with messaging and strategy throughout the Senate impeachment trial. But Gaetz — a conservative firebrand who caught Trump’s eye through his feisty appearances and memorable soundbites on cable news — did not make the final list, which ultimately included eight other House Republicans.

Gaetz said he wasn’t sure why he didn’t make the cut. But Gaetz said he heard from someone in the White House that legislative affairs director Eric Ueland was “responsible for the brush back.”

“I thought ‘Legislative Affairs’ folks were supposed to help the president add friends — not extend silly fights with the president’s best friends,” Gaetz said in an interview. “I don’t know why it would serve someone in the White House to manufacture a divide between the president and one of his best communicators during impeachment.”

When asked to respond to Gaetz's allegations, Ueland did not comment directly on them. But he did mention Gaetz’s support for a House resolution to halt further U.S. military action against Iran. Gaetz had also lobbied some of his fellow House Republicans to back the measure after Democrats added one of his amendments, according to an email obtained by POLITICO and first reported by the Washington Post, which drew the ire of the White House.

“While the Trump administration was disappointed in Mr. Gaetz’s vote, the president’s successful policy to reduce Iranian terror and misbehavior proves the path laid out by the president is working,” Ueland said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Mr. Gaetz in the future.”

Trump’s impeachment team was compiled with input from inside the White House and in consultation with Capitol Hill, according to one GOP official. And there was a desire to have an equal mix of House Judiciary members as well as lawmakers who participated in the closed-door depositions with impeachment witnesses, according to one Republican lawmaker familiar with the decision-making.

The GOP members who were ultimately tapped to serve on Trump's impeachment team include Reps. Doug Collins of Georgia, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Debbie Lesko of Arizona, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, John Ratcliffe of Texas, Elise Stefanik of New York and Lee Zeldin of New York. While they won’t get a speaking role on the floor, they are expected to supplement the legal defense team’s message with TV appearances and press conferences.

Meadows had publicly lobbied for a number of Trump’s House allies, including Gaetz, a member of the Judiciary Committee, to join the team.

“He had one of the greatest performances in the Judiciary, and I say performances because he brought the truth,” Meadows, one of Trump’s closest confidants, said on Steve Bannon’s “War Room: Impeachment” podcast. “This is not a time to play politics, this is a time to put your best team on there and I think Matt Gaetz would be one of them.”

Gaetz has no problem getting on TV and can continue serving as a messenger for the president even without a formal advisor role. Plus, the White House has left open the possibility of adding more members to the team, depending on how the trial goes.

While Gaetz has been one of Trump’s most loyal supporters on Capitol Hill — he has even been called the “Trumpiest Congressman in Trump’s Washington” — he has split from Trump when it comes to the issue of war powers.

After Gaetz backed the Iran measure earlier this month, Ueland told The Washington Post that the Trump administration “was disappointed in the congressman’s vote and is hopeful that as the president’s foreign policy continues to unfold, he will reconsider his points of view.”

Gaetz, however, said he asked the president about those comments and said there was no issue with the president.

“He then encouraged me to get on TV and fight like hell, which I have done,” Gaetz added.

Gaetz, along with some of his GOP colleagues, have also voted for war powers resolutions in the past — which he pointed out have not drawn Trump’s ire.

“That undeniable fact seems to reinforce that any shade thrown at me is more about some staffer’s feelings than actual policy — or benefit for the president I unquestionably support,” he said.

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