GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz fired a shot across Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s bow Wednesday, claiming Ryan was siding with the “deep state,” the FBI and the Justice Department over congressional Republicans trying to conduct oversight on those agencies.
At issue was the speaker’s defense of the FBI earlier in the day for pursuing information from an informant in President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign about Russian interference and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Ryan’s statement — similar to comments made by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy last week — dealt a blow to the president’s so-called Spygate theory that the FBI embedded a spy in his campaign for political purposes.
“Instead of our speaker standing with us and putting the focus on the FBI’s refusal to turn over documents so that we can perform our oversight duties ... he was defending the FBI,” Gaetz, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday on Fox Business.
“That’s deeply frustrating to me. ... We need the speaker to be an institutionalist for the Congress, not to be a defender of the deep state,” he said, using a term, popular in far-right circles, that refers to a conspiratorial cabal of longtime government officials and financial titans who seek to influence policy and politics at agencies such as the State and Justice departments.
Watch: Ryan Backs Gowdy on FBI Use of Informant in Trump Campaign Probe
Gaetz hinted during the interview that some of the more conservative members of the GOP conference whispered Wednesday of revolt against Ryan over his comments.
“I run in the more conservative circles in the house, and I have never up until this point heard a single person talk about removing speaker Ryan from the speakership,” Gaetz said.
That apparently changed Wednesday.
“Today for the first time I was hearing colleagues say, ‘Well, Speaker Ryan won’t stand with us in this fight over the essentials of our democracy, not weaponizing the intelligence community against the presidential campaign. Do we need to look at other choices?’” Gaetz said.
Before the House took last week off, members of the Intelligence Committee received a classified briefing on the ongoing Russia investigation.
That briefing apparently included clarifying details on the FBI’s handling of the informant in Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Both Ryan and Gowdy, who have now publicly defended the FBI’s actions, were at the meeting.
Gaetz, a freshman from Florida, was not.
“Based on what I have seen, I don’t know what the FBI could have done or should have done other than run out a lead that someone loosely connected with the campaign was making assertions about Russia,” Gowdy said last week on CBS’ “This Morning.”
“I would think you would want the FBI to find whether or not there was any validity to what those people were saying,” Gowdy said.
Ryan backed Gowdy on Wednesday in response to a question at the GOP’s weekly leadership team press conference.
“Chairman Gowdy’s initial assessment is accurate,” Ryan said. “I want to make sure that we run every lead down and make sure we get final answers to these questions.”