UPDATE 7-Republican lawmakers storm hearing room, disrupt Trump impeachment inquiry
Republican lawmakers, encouraged by President Donald Trump to get tougher in fighting Democratic efforts to impeach him, disrupted the U.S. House of Representatives impeachment inquiry on Wednesday by storming into a high-security hearing room and delaying testimony by a key Pentagon witness. More than two dozen Republican lawmakers who were not authorized to attend the hearing surged into the room where Laura Cooper, the U.S. defense official who oversees Ukraine and Russia matters, was due to testify behind closed doors before Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
The protesting Republicans began yelling complaints that the Democrats in charge of running the inquiry were conducting the process in private, lawmakers and aides said. After a delay of around four hours, Cooper began her testimony. In a dramatic confrontation during the escalating probe that threatens Trump's presidency even as he seeks re-election next year, the Republican lawmakers caused a standoff with the three Democratic-led House committees leading the inquiry before finally leaving the room.
The impeachment probe focuses on Trump's request for Ukraine to investigate a domestic rival - Democrat Joe Biden - for his personal political benefit. By having Republican lawmakers barge into the hearing room, Trump's allies sought to put the focus on what they portray as unfair Democratic tactics rather than on the president's conduct.
"The American people have a voice in this process. They have a right to know. It should be in the sunlight," House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters. Although the Republicans complain of a lack of transparency in the inquiry, the U.S. Constitution gives the House wide latitude in how to conduct the impeachment process and set rules for the probe. The inquiry is being conducted in a secure room used to brief lawmakers about confidential or sensitive material.
"They're freaked out. They're trying to stop this investigation," Democratic Representative Ted Lieu said of the Republicans. "They know more facts are going to be delivered which are absolutely damning to the president of the United States." A witness inside the room said the Republicans brought cellphones into the facility even though electronic devices are forbidden. An Intelligence Committee official said some Republicans refused to remove their phones. The House parliamentarian ruled that the Republican lawmakers violated House rules, the official added.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told reporters that the witnesses testifying in the inquiry have defied the White House efforts to keep them silent and that "the president has urged his acolytes in Congress to use other means to try to prevent their testimony. But they won't be successful." Trump on Monday told reporters that "Republicans have to get tougher and fight" the impeachment, saying the Democrats are "vicious and they stick together."
"It never ends. The Do Nothing Dems are terrible!" Trump wrote on Twitter earlier on Wednesday, later adding their "case is DEAD!" Before the hearing room was stormed, dozens of House Republicans appeared before reporters with some denouncing the impeachment process run by Democrats as a "joke," a "railroad job," a "charade" and "Soviet-style." They complained that testimony was being taken privately rather than in public hearings and that the House did not hold a vote formally authorizing the investigation.
Republicans who are members of the three committees have taken part in the process throughout.
Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, began testifying on Wednesday afternoon after the standoff ended, an Intelligence Committee official said. Cooper was expected to face questions about Trump's decision this year to withhold $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine approved by Congress. In testimony to the inquiry on Tuesday, William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, said Trump had made the aid contingent on Ukraine announcing it would conduct politically motivated investigations the president demanded.
So far, few Republicans have appeared inclined toward Trump's removal, though there have been some cracks in their support. Senator John Thune, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, told reporters that the picture painted by Taylor's testimony "based on the reporting that we've seen is not a good one." The inquiry could lead to the House passing formal charges known as articles of impeachment, prompting a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate on whether to remove Trump from office.
Democratic lawmakers hope to complete the impeachment inquiry by year's end and are coalescing around two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction, lawmakers and aides told Reuters. Democratic Representative David Cicilline told reporters that holding the depositions in private protects the integrity of the inquiry.
"One of the reasons you do these in private is because you want to prevent witnesses from attempting to align their testimony to the testimony of another witness by watching it or reading a transcript. It's how you protect the integrity of any investigation," Cicilline said. Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell added, "We see this as an effort not only to intimidate this witness but also to intimidate future witnesses from coming forward. It's not going to work. We're not going to be deterred."
Taylor testified that he was told by the U.S. envoy to the European Union that Trump had linked the aid's release to public declarations by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that he would investigate Biden, his son Hunter Biden's tenure on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, and a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The impeachment inquiry, triggered by a whistleblower complaint against Trump by a person within the U.S. intelligence community, focuses on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to carry out those two investigations. Zelenskiy agreed during the call. The aid was later provided.
Federal election law prohibits candidates from accepting foreign help in an election.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)