Editor’s Note: Douglas Heye is the ex-deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a GOP strategist, and a CNN political commentator. He also worked for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr from 2004-2006. Follow him on Twitter @dougheye. The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own. View more opinion on CNN.
Republican lawmakers may have had good reason on Wednesday to barge into a closed-door House Intelligence Committee deposition, delaying the process for five hours, but nevertheless, their stunt was misguided. GOP complaints that partisan House Democrats are holding depositions behind closed doors, and preventing the public from hearing key information from witnesses testifying in the impeachment inquiry to further their own agenda, have some basis in truth – but that is no excuse for childish antics.
These closed-door testimonies seemed to dredge up many of the same frustrations that Republicans felt after being misled by President Obama’s broken promise that every negotiation in the creation of the Affordable Care Act would be done publicly. In the current investigation, some again feel misled about comments from House Intel Chair Adam Schiff, who stated, “We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower” whose allegations prompted the impeachment inquiry. It has been revealed that members of his committee did, in fact, speak to the whistleblower before Schiff made this statement. The desire for a transparent process is, therefore, understandable.
To combat the partisanship, Republicans seemingly felt they had to out-childish the Democrats with a stunt. In a year in which Schiff parodied the President’s famously controversial call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen made fun of Attorney General Bill Barr, who failed to show up at his House Judiciary Committee hearing, by eating fried chicken, that’s hard to do. But let’s be clear – Republicans were not storming the Bastille. Nor was this the “Brooks Brothers Riot” of the 2000 presidential election recount in Miami (of which I was a participant), where Republican activists protested over the transparency of the ballot recount.
Though Wednesday’s political stunt was not violent or physically threatening, Republicans made the mistake of bringing their cell phones, which are not allowed in secure areas like the hearing room for good and obvious reasons. By breaking this rule, these GOP members proactively threw away whatever moral high ground they might have had – granted, there’s not much moral high ground in Washington.
Whatabout-ers will call out Republican hypocrisy and say, “well what about the Benghazi hearings, shouldn’t they have been more open?” The short answer is, yes.
But that shouldn’t excuse the House Democratic Caucus for conducting impeachment inquiry hearings in secret. It’s unnecessary and only leads to the juvenile stunts we saw on Wednesday.
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There is a better way to hold these hearings – and that is through the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The Senate committee has not generated the headlines its House counterpart has, and for the right reasons. Its members have kept their heads down through the hard work of seeking to separate fact from fiction – no small feat in Washington these days.
Typically in politics, if you’re talking process instead of policy, you’re losing. All lawmakers should be focused on the actual allegations surrounding President Trump that prompted the inquiry. Only after seeking the truth can we move on from this investigation.
So why jeopardize that with a stunt?