GOP protest overshadows impeachment hearing

House Republicans stormed a closed-door hearing Wednesday to protest the Democrats’ swift-moving impeachment inquiry, captivating Capitol Hill and delaying the deposition of a top Pentagon official who later testified about President TrumpDonald John TrumpMost Americans break with Trump on Ukraine, but just 45 percent think he should be removed: poll Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns Trump's doctor issues letter addressing 'speculation' about visit to Walter Reed MORE’s dealings with Ukraine.

Roughly 20 GOP members charged into the secure space in the Capitol basement where three House committees were set to interview Laura Cooper, a career Defense official who oversees Ukraine, as part of the House investigation into whether Trump sought help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to boost his own reelection in 2020.

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“They crashed the party,” said Rep. Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaClub for Growth extends advertising against House Dems over impeachment Overnight Energy: Jerry Brown testifies on emissions fight | Brown presses climate action: 'Impeachment is important, but the climate is even more important' | Dems look to protect Grand Canyon from drilling Jerry Brown: 'Impeachment is important, but the climate is even more important' MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, one of three House panels leading the impeachment probe.

Even for a Capitol accustomed to chaos, the protest was a remarkable escalation of the partisan battle royal surrounding the impeachment investigation, pitting Democrats accusing the president of abusing his powers against Trump’s Republican allies, who say the whole process is designed to sink Trump’s reelection chances next year.

Where the Democrats sense high crimes and misdemeanors, Republicans smell naked politics.

“All of us already know that this is a sham process that the Democrats are using for the 2020 elections. It’s Russian collusion 2.0, which was a total hoax,” said Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksTrump takes pulse of GOP on Alabama Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP Jeff Sessions calling Alabama lawmakers about 2020 Senate bid MORE (R-Ala.), who participated in the sit-in. “They used it to gain House seats in the 2018 elections, and they’re pulling out the same playbook in 2020.”

The protest quickly triggered a wave of frustration among Democrats, who called it a political diversion to distract from damaging testimony William Taylor, a top diplomat to Ukraine, gave the committees Tuesday.

“This is a pathetic stunt. They are storming a castle that they already occupied,” said Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiDiplomat ties Trump closer to Ukraine furor Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight MORE (D-N.J.), a former State Department official. “It is impossible to understand this from a rational point of view other than there was devastating testimony against the president.”

Republicans who took part in the “storm the SCIF” group led by Trump ally Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzBottom Line Gaetz wants woman who threw drink at him to serve time Schiff told Gaetz to 'absent yourself' in fiery exchange: impeachment transcript MORE (R-Fla.) did the demonstration to loudly protest the process in which Democrats have been conducting their impeachment inquiry — behind closed doors, limiting members’ access to transcripts, without an impeachment vote by the full House, and without giving Republicans the power to subpoena their own witnesses.

“As a member of Congress, I think I have the right to see the evidence. If we are going to vote on something that is as consequential as this is, I think every member of Congress has the right to see the evidence, and we should go where the evidence leads us,” said Rep. Gary PalmerGary James PalmerTrump takes pulse of GOP on Alabama Senate race GOP protest overshadows impeachment hearing Republicans storm closed-door hearing to protest impeachment inquiry MORE (Ala.), a member of Republican leadership. “It is an extraordinary thing to do something like that, but there is a limit to the secrecy, there has to be.”

Still, some GOP staffers who are on panels overseeing the impeachment probe privately voiced concern that by violating the secure room process, Republicans were undermining their argument that Democrats were flouting the proper procedure for impeachment.

And Democrats were quick to point out that, under House rules, the closed-door depositions are limited to members — Republicans and Democrats — of the three committees leading the investigation: Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, and Foreign Affairs.

“Their attempt to act like Freedom Riders is really an attack on the committee system in Congress,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinTrump attacks Pence aide who called Ukraine call 'inappropriate' Budget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Brindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees MORE (D-Md.). “Essentially, they’re saying that 535 members should be in that room. Obviously, they’re just trying to shut it down.”

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The five-hour protest came to an end just after 3 p.m., shortly after the House Sergeant at Arms, Paul Irving, was seen going alone into the secure room. It doesn’t appear that Republicans won any concessions, however, and some GOP lawmakers are already suggesting they’ll protest future depositions if Republicans aren’t granted more powers.

“I would imagine that things will get worse, not better, if the process doesn’t improve,” said Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinThis week: Round 2 of House impeachment inquiry hearings Sondland testimony looms over impeachment hearings this week Five takeaways from ex-ambassador's dramatic testimony MORE (R-N.Y.), a Trump defender who has loudly criticized the impeachment inquiry.

The committee subpoenaed Cooper for her testimony after the Department of Defense sought to direct her not to appear for her scheduled deposition and in order to prevent the Pentagon from seeking to limit her closed-door testimony, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry.

Democrats hope Cooper, who has worked in the federal government for almost two decades, can shed light on any role the Pentagon played in withholding aid to Ukraine.

Her testimony comes a day after Taylor offered what Democrats described as some of the most damaging testimony yet — in which the top diplomatic official to Ukraine linked the administration’s decision to withhold roughly $400 million in aid to demands for politically motivated investigations.

Republicans have sought to downplay Taylor’s testimony, saying he relayed mostly secondhand information as it related to an alleged quid pro quo. They also have argued that there could not be a quid pro quo if Kiev was not aware that the aid was withheld.

“Name me one thing that Ukraine did to release the money. Nothing,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHarris introduces bill to prevent California wildfires McCarthy says views on impeachment won't change even if Taylor's testimony is confirmed House Republicans call impeachment hearing 'boring,' dismiss Taylor testimony as hearsay MORE (R-Calif.) said. “To have a quid pro quo, you have to exchange one side for another thing.”

Democrats, however, say that while the quid pro quo is important, they believe the president asking Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 presidential election is enough.

“A quid pro quo is not required,” said Rep. Stephen LynchStephen Francis LynchBrindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees Overnight Defense: Dems release first impeachment probe transcripts | White House officials refuse to testify Monday | US, Iran mark 40th anniversary of hostage crisis White House officials refusing to testify Monday MORE (D-Mass.), who says he “definitely” believes there was one. “However, merely soliciting a foreign government to do a political hit job on your political opponent in a U.S. election is a violation of [the law]. So, quid pro quo is really a canard. That is a straw man. It’s not relevant to the discussion.”