Apparently unable to make excuses for President Donald Trump’s possibly impeachable behavior in regard to Ukraine, congressional Republicans have decided to just make a fuss.

For those who are taking the time to keep up with it, that probe took on new urgency after Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine whom Trump fired, testified on Capitol Hill a couple of weeks ago. Her appearance encouraged other career officials to come forward and tell their own stories, partly to defend their vocations from constant assault by the president.

Led by Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a group of approximately two dozen lawmakers from the Grand Old Party barged into a secure hearing room Wednesday to protest an alleged lack of transparency. They refused to leave for several hours, during which they ordered at least one pizza delivery.

Gaetz has repeatedly described himself as “the conservative AOC,” or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, according to the Miami New Times, a progressive independent news site that sticks to Gaetz like a tick.

But this time Gaetz, pumped with own-the-libs fervor and the feeling that he actually had accomplished something, compared his move to the Spartans in the 2006 movie “300.”

“If behind those doors they intend to overturn the results of an American presidential election, we want to know what’s going on,” he tweeted, along with the hashtag “#StopTheSchiffShow,” in a nod to the committee’s chair, Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat.

And another hashtag, #ArrestMattGaetz, soon was trending on Twitter.

But, alas, as Spartans, Gaetz & Co. were punching air. Hot air. Gaetz’s complaint was bogus. Thirteen of the 41 GOP lawmakers that Gaetz listed as planning to storm the closed-door hearing actually sit on committees with the power to question witnesses and review documents, according to Axios.

In accordance with House rules, Republicans were not barred from the meeting unless they didn’t belong to the committee, as Gaetz didn’t. Democrats who didn’t belong to the committee were kept out, too.

Schiff is committee chair under House rules because Democrats won the most House seats in last year’s midterms. Those are the rules — or is it Gaetz who wants to overturn the results of an American congressional election?

If there was anything Gaetz & Co. demonstrated, it was how desperate GOP lawmakers are becoming. They are running out of reasons to defend President Trump amid mounting evidence of his possible corruption and sinking public opinion polls as the House impeachment inquiry plows ahead.

Significantly, the Gaetz gang popped up after Ambassador William Taylor, the chief diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, testified Tuesday to House lawmakers, persuasively backing up with notes much of what the complaint from an anonymous intelligence whistleblower revealed Sept. 26.

The complaint alleged that the White House put a hold on military aid to Ukraine to pressure that country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to launch investigations to look into any shady connections between Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that hired his son Hunter Biden.

Now, after Gaetz’s stunt came reports late Thursday that the Justice Department has shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation to a criminal inquiry. That move would give the prosecutor running it, John Durham, the power to subpoena witnesses and documents and file criminal charges.

That plays into Trump’s long-held suspicions of “deep state” conspiracies against his election and his presidency within the administration. Trump fired James Comey, the FBI director under whose watch agents opened the Russia inquiry,

Part of the House investigation is looking into whether Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to open investigations into the 2016 election constituted an abuse of power. His former acting attorney general scoffed at that this week, saying on Fox News, “Abuse of power is not a crime.” Yes, it is, but his sentiment appears to be the president’s, too.

I’m not going to suggest that the president could be using the Justice Department, headed by his appointed Attorney General Bill Barr, as a hammer to go after his perceived enemies. But as with the Gaetz gang’s distracting stunt, the alternative corruption scenario could hardly come at a more convenient time.

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Email Clarence Page at

cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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