U.S. Reps. Bradley Byrne, Mo Brooks and Gary Palmer of Alabama joined a group of more than two dozen House Republicans who stormed a closed-door impeachment hearing Wednesday, putting an end to the deposition of a top Defense Department official.
Byrne in a video he tweeted afterward said he’d just come from a room “where they’ve been trying to conduct an impeachment hearing in secret.”
“This is a sham, and they just showed the shame that it is by the way they conducted themselves,” Byrne said in the video.
“The American people & their elected representatives deserve to know what’s going on in Adam Schiff’s kangaroo court,” Brooks said in a tweet after the incident. “Socialist Democrats have ZERO credible evidence of an impeachable offense. That’s why they’ve insisted on secret, closed-door, Capitol basement proceedings.”
However, inside the room and conducting the deposition of Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, were Republican congressmen also serving on the Intelligence Committee along with Democratic members, all of whom are allowed in the sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF).
Republicans on the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have equal access to witnesses during the impeachment proceedings, prompting several Democrats to paint Wednesday’s incident as a political stunt by Republicans meant to derail the hearings.
Republicans who stormed the testimony were led by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.
Schiff and the witness both left the room after Republicans declined to leave and allow the testimony to continue, according to news accounts.
“It was closest thing I’ve seen around here to mass civil unrest as a member of Congress,” according to a source in the room, CNN reported.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, an Intelligence Committee member, told The Hill afterward that leadership is trying to “resolve this amicably.”
“We want this to continue,” Stewart told The Hill, adding that Republicans are not trying to stop the hearing.
Many of the Republicans who entered the closed-door hearing had their cell phones with them, a security violation of the room.
Rep. Gaetz tweeted while still inside the room that “I led over 30 of my colleagues into the SCIF where Adam Schiff is holding secret impeachment depositions. Still inside – more details to come.”
Gaetz then followed that tweet a few minutes later that stated “**Tweet from Staff**”.
Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, a member of the House Intelligence Committee who was in the room when the Republicans stormed in, collected their phones, according to several news accounts.
“All of us put our electronics in boxes outside,” Connolly said, as reported by CNN. “That SCIF is used by Congress for lots of highly classified purposes. To compromise that to make a point, is deeply troubling.”
Republicans have protested the impeachment hearings, saying the process lacks transparency. Meanwhile, Democrats have said the closed-door testimony, which includes questions from Republican committee members, is needed so that classified information can be discussed and to prevent other possible witnesses from coordinating their testimony.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a member of the House Intelligence Commtitee, told ABC on Sunday that all of the transcripts of interviews taken in the closed-door session “will eventually be scrubbed for classified information and made available for the American public to see.”
The Republican intrusion of Wednesday’s deposition came one day after the committees heard testimony from U.S. top diplomat to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, who told lawmakers in an opening statement about Trump’s orders to demand that Ukraine open an investigation that would help him politically in order to meet with Trump and receive security aid.