President Donald Trump File photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
President Donald Trump File photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Republican lawmakers disrupt Democratic-led Trump impeachment inquiry

By Richard Cowan And Mark Hosenball And Patricia Zengerle Time of article published Oct 23, 2019

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Washington – Republican lawmakers,

encouraged by President Donald Trump to get tougher in fighting

Democrats' attempts to impeach him, on Wednesday disrupted the

US House of Representatives impeachment inquiry and prevented

a Pentagon official from testifying.

The Republicans stormed into a hearing room where Laura

Cooper, the US defence official who oversees Ukraine and

Russia matters, was due to testify behind closed doors and began

yelling, lawmakers and aides said.

The impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump's request for

Ukraine to investigate a domestic rival, Democrat Joe Biden,

for his personal political benefit.

In a dramatic confrontation during an escalating probe that

threatens Trump's presidency even as he seeks re-election next

year, Capitol police were called in to clear the room and bring

order, a Republican congressional aide said.

A witness inside the room said the Republicans brought

cellphones into the high-security facility where electronic

devices are forbidden.

"They're freaked out. They're trying to stop this

investigation," Democratic Representative Ted Lieu said. 

"They

don't want to hear from witness Cooper today. They know more

facts are going to be delivered which are absolutely damning to

the president of the United States."

Republicans have called the rules for the impeachment

inquiry set by the leaders of the Democratic-led House unfair.

The U.S. Constitution gives the House wide latitude in how to

conduct the impeachment process and set rules for the inquiry.

Republican Representative Mark Meadows told reporters of the situation in the hearing room: "There's about 20 members (lawmakers) down there, at least a dozen that are not on the three committees. And they're going to wait until there's a more open and transparent process."

The witness who saw the events said the Republican lawmakers

pushed past Capitol Police personnel and started yelling,

voicing their objections to decisions made by the Democratic

leaders of the House to hold depositions in closed sessions and

not release transcripts of the testimony.

Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, an outspoken Trump

supporter who led Wednesday's action, had tried to enter the

committee room last week but was turned away because he was not

a member of any of the three committees leading the

investigation.

Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch, who is allowed to

attend depositions as a member of House Oversight Committee,

said Cooper did not testify. A House aide said the day's

impeachment-related proceedings were suspended for the time

being.

Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell said the Republicans had compromised a secure area of the Capitol,

obstructing the impeachment inquiry and sought to intimidate a

witness, but would not delay the impeachment probe overall.

"We see this a an effort not only to intimidate this witness

but also to intimidate future witnesses from coming forward.

It's not going to work," Swalwell added. "We're not going to be

deterred." 

Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defence for

Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, earlier in the day arrived for

testimony and 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 US diplomat in Ukraine, said Trump had made the aid

contingent on Ukraine announcing it would conduct politically

motivated investigations the president demanded.

Trump on Monday said "Republicans have to get

tougher and fight" the impeachment, saying the Democrats

"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.

"It is a sham, and it's time for it to end," Republican

congressman Mark Walker said.

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. Senate Republicans have shown little appetite for

removing Trump.

As she arrived at the US Capitol, Cooper did not answer

questions from reporters. She apparently appeared voluntarily

before the lawmakers as the Pentagon had not blocked her from

testifying. 

The Trump administration had sought to block

testimony by several other current and former officials.

Taylor testified that he was told by the US 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 called Burisma, and a

debunked conspiracy theory 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.

So far, few of Trump's fellow conservatives have appeared

inclined toward his 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".

Reuters

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