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 TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel 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 RoudaFormer Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building Republicans race for distance from 'America First Caucus' California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success 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 BrooksEx-Sen. Jones rips Mo Brooks over 'irony' remark on Texas Democrats getting COVID-19 Justice in legal knot in Mo Brooks, Trump case Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up 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) MalinowskiKean Jr. to run against Malinowski: report The tool we need to expand COVID-19 vaccinations world-wide Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal 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) GaetzLawmakers introduce bipartisan Free Britney Act Performance or performance art? A question for voters in 2022 (and 2024) Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections 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 PalmerMo Brooks launches Senate bid in Alabama Former Trump officials eye bids for political office The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - Senate trial will have drama, but no surprise ending 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 RaskinPelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel House erupts in anger over Jan. 6 and Trump's role Oversight Democrats launch investigation into GOP Arizona election audit 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 ZeldinSunday shows preview: Biden defends troop withdrawal in Afghanistan; COVID-19 impacting unvaccinated pockets Misled condemnation of the Lebanese Armed Forces will help Hezbollah New York GOP backs Zeldin for governor 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 McCarthyMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel 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 LynchOvernight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' Overnight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners 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.”