The Washington Post - 24.10.2019

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cellphones are barred.
Before entering the closed-door
hearing, Republican lawmakers
held a news conference to decry
how Schiff, the California Demo-
crat who runs the Intelligence
Committee, was carrying out the
panel’s portion of the impeach-
ment inquiry. Several complained
about the private nature of the
proceedings and claimed that the
inquiry was part of a long-running
attempt by Democrats to overturn
the result of the 2016 presidential
But none of the 13 Republicans
who spoke defended Trump on the
central allegation that he had
pushed Ukraine to investigate
Democrats while blocking mili-
tary aid that had been approved
for Kyiv.
Damning testimony from Wil-
liam B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S.
ambassador to Ukraine, has
rocked the White House’s im-
peachment defense, making it
more difficult for Republicans to
claim that Trump did nothing
wrong. Taylor told lawmakers that
Trump had personally intervened
to push Ukraine to announce in-
vestigations targeting Democrats
as part of a quid pro quo linking
stalled U.S. military aid to political
assistance from Ukraine.
After Taylor’s testimony, which
included a 15-page opening state-
ment obtained by The Washing-
ton Post, some Republicans ap-
peared to abandon Trump’s force-
ful defense that there was no quid
pro quo, opting for more-nuanced
“This is a messy moment, no
doubt,” said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry
(R-Neb.). “But at the same time,
does it rise to a level of criminality
— impeachment of a president?
Doesn’t look that way to me, and
the process, by the way, is very
unfair. And this is what is under-
mining the credibility of House of
Other Republicans highlighted
the White House’s difficulty in
keeping the party in line as more
damaging evidence emerges from
the impeachment proceedings.
Senate Majority Whip John
Thune (R-S.D.) also complained
about the process but told report-
ers Wednesday that Taylor’s testi-
mony was not positive for the
Trump administration.
“The picture coming out of it
based on the reporting we’ve seen
I would say is not a good one, but I
would say also until we have a
process that allows for everybody


to see this in full transparency, it’s
pretty hard to draw any hard-and-
fast conclusions,” he said.
Democrats have said they will
open the process for public hear-
ings in a matter of weeks after the
initial stage of their investigation
For the past month, Democrats
have pursued an aggressive probe
into whether Trump abused his
office for personal and political
gain. The inquiry began after a
whistleblower from the intelli-
gence community told Congress
that Trump had sought to pressure
the Ukrainian government to in-
terfere in the 2020 election by
investigating Democrats.
Republicans have increasingly
complained that defending
Trump against those accusations
is a herculean task made more
difficult by the president’s im-
promptu tweets and the lack of
coordinated messaging at the
White House. As current and for-
mer Trump administration offi-
cials have testified before the In-
telligence Committee, with sev-
eral backing up the whistle-
blower’s allegations, Republicans

have struggled to mount a coher-
ent and consistent defense of the
Their responses have vacillated
from complaints about the whis-
tleblower’s “secondhand” knowl-
edge of Trump’s actions to argu-
ments that Democrats have not
held a vote to authorize the im-
peachment inquiry, which is not
required under House rules.
After Taylor’s testimony, some
GOP lawmakers argued that even
if Trump held up the military aid
for political reasons, it was defen-
sible because the Ukrainian gov-
ernment did not initially know
that the money had been stalled.
“You can’t have a quid pro quo
with no quo,” Rep. John Ratcliffe
(R-Tex.) said Tuesday in a Fox
News interview that Trump am-
plified on Twitter.
One of Trump’s top congres-
sional allies, Rep. Mark Meadows
(R-N.C.), has repeatedly asked the
White House for information as he
has sought to defend the presi-
dent, according to a person famil-
iar with the matter, who spoke on
the condition of anonymity to dis-
cuss internal conversations.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham
(R-S.C.) — who spent Tuesday de-
fending Trump’s claim that the
impeachment was a “lynching” —
has also criticized the White
House’s handling of the proceed-
ings. Asked Wednesday whether
the White House needed to do a
better job communicating on the
inquiry, he said, “Yes.”
The White House, which did
not respond to a request for com-
ment Wednesday, has tried to take
a more proactive role lately in
coordinating with Hill Republi-
cans, with limited success.
Trump has complained in re-
cent days that no one is forcefully
defending him and convened with
House Freedom Caucus lawmak-
ers Tuesday at the White House
before they barged into the secure
room, according to lawmakers
and aides familiar with the meet-
ing. Trump told them to take more
aggressive steps to block the inves-
tigation, these people said.
Turmoil within the West Wing
has further complicated the im-
peachment response effort. Act-
ing White House chief of staff
Mick Mulvaney has faced calls for

his ouster after a meandering
news conference last week in
which he undercut Trump’s deni-
als of a “quid pro quo” for aid to
Ukraine. Trump’s personal lawyer
and the Justice Department both
released statements distancing
themselves from Mulvaney’s com-
ments, which the White House
later sought to walk back.
White House aides have com-
plained that White House counsel
Pat Cipollone has not shared infor-
mation with others in the West
Wing. Mulvaney and Cipollone
have butted heads during the
process, officials said.
Trump has spearheaded his
own impeachment defense, regu-
larly confounding or undercutting
his allies with incendiary tweets
and statements.
On Wednesday — a day after
forcing Republicans to respond to
his lynching comparison — Trump
turned his fire on Taylor, describ-
ing the career diplomat as a “Nev-
er Trumper.” He also acknowl-
edged, however, that his own ad-
ministration had chosen Taylor
for the Ukraine posting.
“It would be really great if the

people within the Trump Admin-
istration, all well-meaning and
good (I hope!), could stop hiring
Never Trumpers, who are worse
than the Do Nothing Democrats,”
Trump wrote on Twitter. “Nothing
good will ever come from them!”
Few Republicans have echoed
Trump’s personal attacks on Tay-
lor, a Vietnam veteran who served
in the government under Republi-
can and Democratic presidents
and was originally appointed am-
bassador to Ukraine by President
George W. Bush. Taylor said in his
testimony that Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo had personally
asked him to take the acting posi-
tion this year.
At an event Wednesday in Pitts-
burgh, Trump said of Republi-
cans: “We’ve got to stick together.”
He gave Democrats backhand-
ed praise, saying, “They stick to-
gether, and they’re vicious.”
On his way to the event, Trump
wrote on Twitter that “Never
Trumper” Republicans who don’t
support him are “human scum.”
He later apparently deleted the
Brendan Buck, who was coun-
selor to former House speaker
Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), said
Trump’s pressuring of GOP law-
makers to back him “despite the
daily chaos” has been effective be-
cause of his sway over Republican
base voters.
“When Trump says Republi-
cans in Congress aren’t doing
enough to defend him, their con-
stituents quickly demand they
stick by him,” Buck said.
But it is not clear that the strat-
egy is working with the broader
electorate, which has grown in-
creasingly supportive of the Dem-
ocratic-led impeachment inquiry.
In a Quinnipiac University poll
released Wednesday, 55 percent of
voters voiced support for the im-
peachment inquiry, the highest
level of support recorded in Quin-
nipiac surveys. Forty-three per-
cent opposed the inquiry.
In the end, House Republicans’
disruption of Wednesday’s im-
peachment hearings also did little
to derail the effort.
After the long delay, the
planned impeachment testimony
of Deputy Assistant Secretary of
Defense Laura Cooper resumed
inside the secure facility.

Dawsey reported from Pittsburgh.
Felicia Sonmez contributed to this

GOP lawmakers’ defense of Trump grows more frantic

Republican lawmakers who stormed a room being used by the House Intelligence Committee to question a Defense Department official are
seen after Wednesday’s episode. The Republicans object to the closed nature of the hearings being conducted by the Democratic majority.


President Trump told them to
“take the gloves off.” A day later,
House conservatives breached se-
curity on Capitol Hill, stormed a
secure room and started tweeting.
It began with a call to action
from one of Trump’s favorite law-
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the
Fox News regular, led dozens of
Republican members to the base-
ment of the Capitol on Wednesday
morning to disrupt the impeach-
ment inquiry by temporarily
blocking testimony from a Penta-
gon official summoned to detail
her knowledge of the administra-
tion’s decision to withhold mili-
tary aid for Ukraine.
What unfolded next was one of
the most bizarre and theatrical
days of the probe to date, full of
partisan fury, genuine security vi-
olations, unclaimed pizza and sev-
eral TV appearances likely to
please the president.
Occupying a deposition room
marked a dramatic escalation in
the GOP’s effort to stop the im-
peachment inquiry. In the end, the
Republicans managed to freeze
the probe and steal the media
narrative for five hours. But to do
that, they broke long-standing bi-
partisan rules governing the most
restricted area of the Capitol,
where technology is forbidden so
that lawmakers may review sensi-
tive material without fear of sur-
The demonstration came a day
after members of the conservative
House Freedom Caucus met with
Trump at the White House, where
the president urged the group to
be “tough,” according to Rep. Scott
DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), who attend-
The unusual protest came on
what was expected to be a calm
day for the impeachment inquiry.
Only one witness, Deputy Assis-
tant Secretary of Defense Laura
Cooper, was scheduled to testify,
and she was not expected to make
much news. This account is based
on interviews with more than

20 people familiar with the day’s
events, some of whom spoke on
the condition of anonymity to of-
fer candid details about what hap-
pened behind closed doors.
At 9:45 a.m., Gaetz and his
group stood before microphones
outside the secure area of the Cap-
itol and decried “Soviet-style” tac-
tics they said Democrats were em-
bracing as part of their impeach-
ment inquiry.
Several accused Democratic
leaders of trying to undo the 2016
election result, rallying behind a
talking point promoted by Trump
and House GOP leaders.
“If behind those doors, they in-
tend to overturn the result of an
American presidential election,
we want to know what’s going on,”
said Gaetz, accusing Democrats of
being “obsessed with attacking a
president who we believe has not
done anything to deserve im-
After several speakers made
their case, the group moved past a
set of double doors into the secure
area, out of reporters’ view, and
were met by two security guards.
After stopping for a time, the
group barged past into the deposi-
tion room with chants of “let us
Then all hell broke loose, ac-
cording to witnesses.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) —
a Trump favorite who regularly
defends the president on televi-
sion — started shouting about “in-
justices against the president!”
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.),
who is running for Senate in his
state, railed about the perceived
unfairness of the Democrats’ deci-
sion to make the process private.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.)
snapped back at Byrne, “There are
no cameras here, so it won’t help
your Senate campaign.”
Several of the protesting mem-
bers entered the room with their
cellphones, a major security
breach, and started using them.
“Reporting from Adam Schiff ’s
secret chamber,” Rep. Andy Biggs
(R-Ariz.) wrote on Twitter just be-
fore noon, referring to the House
Intelligence Committee chairman
and de facto point man for the
impeachment inquiry. Rep. Alex

Mooney (R-W.Va.) snapped and
tweeted pictures of the scene.
Democrats were seething.
“They not only brought in their
unauthorized bodies, they may
have brought in the Russians and
the Chinese with electronics into a
secure space, which will require
that the space at some point in
time be desensitized,” said Rep.
Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who sits
on the Intelligence Committee.
Inside the room, Schiff
(D-Calif.) declared a violation of
House rules. He warned Republi-
cans he was “formally” notifying
them that they were compromis-
ing the facility with their devices
— an admonition that prompted
one House Republican, longtime
Intelligence Committee member
Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.),
to collect fellow Republicans’
With Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-
Calif.) more than an hour away
attending the funeral of her broth-
er in Baltimore, Democrats were
without a leader. Schiff left to call
the House Sergeant at Arms to
discuss how to respond.
For a brief period, Democrats
considered having the U.S. Capitol
Police remove the Republicans.
But they ultimately decided
against it, determining that it
would only further the GOP’s talk-
ing points.
In fact, several of the protesters

were members of the committees
involved in the impeachment in-
quiry — meaning they already had
access to witnesses and the ability
to cross-examine them.
“People have to see this for the
total fraud that it is,” said Rep.
Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who was
there and remarked on what he
characterized as the absurdity of
some Republicans protesting de-
spite their involvement in the wit-
ness interviews. “Their attempt to
act like Freedom Riders is really
an attack on the committee system
in Congress.... Obviously they’re
just trying to shut it down.”
When Schiff walked to his office
from the deposition room, three
Republicans followed and made
repeated entreaties to release the
interview transcripts. Reps. Jim
Jordan (Ohio), Mark Meadows
(N.C.) and Lee Zeldin (N.Y.) — all
members of the panels leading the
investigation — argued that it
wasn’t fair that lawmakers are fac-
ing questions from constituents
but lack access to the testimony to
adequately respond.
Schiff, who has said he intends
to release the transcripts at some
point, told them the one transcript
they did get to see was promptly
leaked, though it was not clear
what he meant. He refused to com-
That’s when Republicans re-
turned to the deposition room and

continued their sit-in. Rep. Val
Demings (D-Fla.), an ex-police
chief, told them they should be
ashamed of themselves for de-
fending a president like Trump.
She even quoted from the Gospel
of Mark: “For what shall it profit a
man, if he shall gain the whole
world, and lose his own soul?”
As the political drama unfold-
ed, Cooper sat in a separate room,
awaiting her testimony. Demo-
crats and Republicans began to
speculate that they may need to
postpone her interview.
The GOP protest was striking
because Republicans had used the
very same space — and format —
for their own politically sensitive
investigations in the past. Just a
few years ago, former congress-
man Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) led an
investigation into the 2012 attacks
on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Lib-
ya, a probe Democrats derided as a
witch hunt against former secre-
tary of state Hillary Clinton, who
was then running for president.
During that investigation,
Gowdy told then-Rep. Darrell Issa
(R-Calif.) to leave a private deposi-
tion. Issa had tried to sit in and
listen to testimony, though he was
not on the committee running the
At the time, Gowdy — as the
Democrats have done now — de-
fended the closed-door format as
necessary to get honest informa-

tion from witnesses.
“If you want to get on the news,
then go rob a bank,” Gowdy told
his colleagues in 2014 when they
pushed him to have his Benghazi
hearings in public.
As the protest dragged into the
afternoon, Democrats privately
began to fret about what they
would do if Republicans refused to
yield. Some questioned whether
they would have to move their
private investigation into the pub-
lic sphere before they were ready.
Around 1:30 p.m., a cart with
15 large pizzas from Domino’s
mysteriously appeared outside
the secure area. It was unclear
who paid for them, but Meadows,
the conservative from North Caro-
lina, encouraged the assembled
reporters to partake.
“There is no quid pro quo. You
can eat it!” he said. The press
declined, noting that they cannot
accept gifts from lawmakers, and
soon the cart disappeared.
The protest petered out by
3 p.m., with several participants
exiting the secure area to vote —
and never coming back. This al-
lowed Cooper’s testimony to re-
House Homeland Security
Committee Chairman Bennie
Thompson (D-Miss.) stated that
by bringing cellphones into the
secure room, the Republicans vio-
lated “the Oath all Members of
Congress sign to gain access to
classified information” and “secu-
rity controls established by the
[CIA] for the protection of classi-
fied information.”
“I am requesting you take ac-
tion with respect to the Members
involved in the breach,” Thomp-
son (D-Miss.) wrote in a letter to
the House Sergeant at Arms.
Other Democrats tried to crack
jokes at the GOP’s expense, argu-
ing that the best way to respond to
the protest was with humor.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said
he offered a Snickers bar to the
animated GOP members who
came in, with the candy’s “you’re
not yourself ” commercial in mind.
“I offered them a Snickers bar
because you’re not yourself when
you’re not eating,” he said. “I’m not
sure it worked.”

Karoun Demirjian, Greg Jaffe and John
Wagner contributed to this report.

Allies take Trump’s call

for a fight underground

Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of Ukraine and Russia policy, arrives
to testify at the Capitol on Wednesday — before Republican lawmakers’ spectacle delayed the hearing.
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