House Republicans stormed a closed-door hearing Wednesday, 10-23-19, to protest Democrats' impeachment inquiry process, breaking up the deposition of a top Defense Department official who was testifying about President Trump's dealings with Ukraine.
"They crashed the party," said Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.), a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, one of three House panels leading the impeachment probe.
Dozens of Republicans, including some members of leadership like House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), barged into the secure hearing room in the Capitol basement where Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, was set to provide private testimony. The deposition got underway after a five-hour delay.
Several lawmakers said that, in response to the Republican protest on Wednesday morning, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) left the room with Cooper and postponed her interview.
“The fact that Adam Schiff won't even let the press in — you can't even go in and see what's going on in that room," Scalise told reporters outside the hearing room. "Voting members of Congress are being denied access from being able to see what's happening behind these closed doors, where they're trying to impeach the president of the United States with a one-sided set of rules, they call the witnesses.”
“When we walked in, they looked dumbfounded and the room just came to a stop," Byrne told The Hill. "And we lined up along the wall or sat in chairs expecting them to do something. And after several minutes, Adam Schiff got up and just walked out. And while he was walking out I said, 'Don't go.’”
Republicans have repeatedly blasted Democrats for choosing to only allow members of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees to attend the hearings and depositions, arguing the information and transcripts should be made available to all members given the gravity of the consequences of impeachment.
They have also accused Democrats of selectively leaking information from those hearings to the press.
Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said Schiff said “nothing” after Republicans forced their way into the hearing room.
“He doesn’t have the guts to come talk to us,” Marshall said. “He left, he just got up and left. He doesn't have the guts to tell us why we can’t come in the room, why he doesn't want this to be transparent. It’s the biggest facade, biggest farce of my life.”
But Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) said Schiff postponed the hearing as he left the room. Waltz also said Schiff was “threatening” GOP members with ethics violations.
Some of the Republicans who barged into the hearing room were in possession of cellphones, a violation of the rules governing the so-called sensitive compartmented information facility, known as the SCIF, where the depositions have been taking place.
Roughly 25 Republican lawmakers occupied the room, according to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). "It appears that they're refusing to leave," she said at the time.
Wasserman Schultz, who said Cooper was not in the room when the Republicans entered, added that impeachment probe has "far too much fact for their comfort level, so they have to try to stop it from moving forward."
The move by House Republicans comes a day after another witness, top diplomat William Taylor, testified that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country to conduct a pair of investigations — one into 2016 election hacking, the other into the family of former Vice President Joe Biden — that might have helped Trump's reelection campaign next year.
Scalise on Tuesday led more than 50 GOP members in a floor speech rally railing against impeachment efforts. The previous day, Trump called on Republicans to be more vocal in their defense of him as Democrats push forward with their impeachment efforts.
Some Democrats were outraged by GOP lawmakers bringing cellphones and cameras into a secure room.
"In short, they have compromised the security of the room. And they not only brought in their unauthorized devices, they may have brought in the Russian and Chinese with electronics in a secure space," Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told reporters.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a member of the Oversight Committee and a key Trump supporter, suggested the concerns over the cellphones were overblown.
“There's no cameras or phones in the SCIF, so I think that those phones actually went in, just because everybody went in,” Meadows told reporters. “I can tell you I actually collected phones and brought them back out. You certainly want a secure environment but at the same time I think everybody wants to hear exactly what's going on.”
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), a member of the Intelligence Committee who is allowed in the closed-door hearings, said Republicans were not trying to stop the hearing.
“We want to hear from this witness but so do the other members of Congress," he said. "This may be within House rules, that’s not the question. The question is, is it a good idea to try and impeach the president in secret hearings?”
Asked whether Republicans will attempt to enter other closed-door hearings, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters that the GOP “will continue to fight to find information because we have a responsibility to our constituents and we will not be denied that.”
Other Republicans who took part in the action included Reps. Mark Walker (N.C.), Jody Hice (Ga.), Mo Brooks (Ala.) Buddy Carter (Ga.), Doug LaMalfa (Calif.), Alex Mooney (W.Va.), Gary Palmer (Ala.) and Bill Johnson (Ohio).