A freshman Republican congressman who represents North Idaho said if he has to vote on whether to impeach the president, he has to know everything that is being provided to three committees now meeting in closed sessions.
“I’m not going to go into that vote without that knowledge,” Rep. Russ Fulcher said Wednesday. “If the president has done something that warrants impeachment, we need to know about that.”
Fulcher was among more than two dozen House Republicans who on Wednesday essentially crashed a closed-door hearing of the Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to hear from Laura Cooper, a senior Defense Department official who oversees Ukraine policy.
The group did not set out that morning to attend the closed-door hearing. They initially planned to hold a news conference saying they “were very disappointed we were not being allowed to have access to evidence or see a transcript,” Fulcher said.
But at the end of that news conference, the approximately 30 legislators in attendance decided “let’s just go over and try to go to the hearing,” he said.
The hearing was being held in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, which is used for briefings on classified information. But the hearings that could result in an impeachment are not classified, Fulcher said. He and other Republicans saw no reason why they should be shut out or why the meetings needed to be held in that facility.
“We’re not protesting the hearings. We’re protesting the fact it’s so secret and it’s so one-sided,” Fulcher said.
When they walked into the hearing, Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., called a halt to the proceedings and left the room. So did Cooper. The uninvited Republicans stayed put, some for about four hours to see if testimony would resume, Fulcher said. It didn’t. Eventually everyone left for a floor vote.
One of the rules of the SCIF is that members can’t bring in cellphones, can’t take photos and can’t record anything that goes on there. Some members of the GOP group did not immediately surrender their phones and several noted on Twitter that they were in the room, although some later noted they had gone outside the room to post tweets.
Fulcher said any cellphones that were brought into the room were quickly collected before they heard any of the proceedings.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R- La., said after the group left they were protesting what he called a Soviet-style inquiry: “We came today to express our strong outrage at what’s happening in that secret room.”
House Democrats have defended the hearings and have promised to release the transcripts when it will not affect their investigation. The Associated Press reported Schiff wrote a letter to colleagues last week noting “the majority and minority have been provided equal staff representation and time to question witnesses, who have stayed until the majority and the minority have asked asked all of their questions – often late into the evening.”
Fulcher said the House committees should use the precedents of the impeachment proceedings for Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton and hold open hearings that can be attended by the public, news media and other members. Holding a closed-door session sets a bad precedent, he added.
“Things are going pretty quick right now,” Fulcher said. “I’ve got to be informed. I need to be accountable. So does Chairman Schiff.”
Cooper’s testimony was scheduled a day after a top U.S. diplomat testified that he was told Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine until the country’s president went public with a promise to investigate Democrats.
Cooper was answering questions from lawmakers and staffers in response to a subpoena, an official working on the impeachment inquiry told the AP. She was explaining to lawmakers the process of distributing military aid and being asked whether the appropriate steps were followed on Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the interview.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, wasn’t in the group. Her spokesman said she had two subcommittee hearings to attend Wednesday, one on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and another on clean transportation initiatives to reduce pollution.
This report includes information from the Associated Press.
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