House Minority Whip Steve Scalise with other Republican congressmen spoke to reporters after the incident. (Reuters: Yuri Gripas)
Republicans, encouraged by President Donald Trump to get tougher in fighting the Democrats’ attempts to impeach him, have disrupted the US House of Representatives impeachment inquiry and have prevented a Pentagon official from testifying.
- Pentagon official Laura Cooper did not testify and the hearing was suspended
- Republicans called the rules for the impeachment inquiry, set by the leaders of the Democratic-led House, unfair
- Capitol Police had to clear the hearing room and bring order
The Republicans stormed into a hearing room where Pentagon official Laura Cooper, who oversees Ukraine and Russia matters, was due to testify behind closed doors, politicians and aides said.
The impeachment inquiry focuses on Mr 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 Mr 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 mobile phones into the high-security facility where electronic devices were forbidden.
“They’re freaked out. They’re trying to stop this investigation,” Democratic representative Ted Lieu said.
President Donald Trump encouraged Republicans to get tougher in fighting the Democrats’ attempts to impeach him. (AP: Evan Vucci)
“They don’t want to hear from witness [Ms] Cooper today. They know more facts are going to be delivered which are absolutely damning to the President of the United States.”
Mr Trump said earlier in the week that “Republicans have to get tougher and fight” the impeachment, saying the Democrats were “vicious and they stick together”.
Neither he (Taylor) or any other witness has provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld. You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo.” Congressman John Ratcliffe @foxandfriends Where is the Whistleblower? The Do Nothing Dems case is DEAD!
“It never ends. The Do Nothing Dems are terrible!” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter earlier on Wednesday (local time), later adding their “case is dead!”
Republican representative Mark Meadows told reporters of the situation in the hearing room: “There’s about 20 members [politicians] 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,” Mr Meadows said.
Republicans have called the rules for the impeachment inquiry set by the leaders of the Democratic-led House unfair.
The US Constitution gave the House wide latitude in how to conduct the impeachment process and set rules for the inquiry.
US House Republicans said the rules for the impeachment inquiry are unfair. (Reuters: Carlos Jasso)
The witness who saw the events said the Republican politicians 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 supporter of Mr Trump who led the 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 Ms Cooper did not testify.
A House aide said the day’s impeachment-related proceedings were suspended for the time being.
Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell told reporters that 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 as an effort not only to intimidate this witness but also to intimidate future witnesses from coming forward. It’s not going to work,” Mr Swalwell added.
“We’re not going to be deterred,” he added.
Ms Cooper earlier in the day arrived for testimony and was expected to face questions about Mr Trump’s decision this year to withhold $US391 million ($570 million) in security assistance to Ukraine approved by Congress.
The stand-off came a day after top US diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, said Mr Trump had made the aid contingent on Ukraine announcing it would conduct politically motivated investigations the President demanded.