The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry
Laura Cooper, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, has started her testimony in the House impeachment inquiry.
Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda told reporters Cooper did not give an opening statement and they went straight into questions.
The reason for the delay: Roughly two-dozen House Republicans stormed the closed-door deposition in secure House Intelligence Committee spaces to rail against the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, a political stunt ratcheting up the GOP complaints about the process that delayed today's scheduled deposition for five hours.
A federal judge granted an emergency motion from the watchdog group American Oversight today seeking the release of Ukraine-related records from the State Department, including communications between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Judge Christopher Cooper ordered lawyers for the State Department and American Oversight to come together to narrow the scope of the documents in the request, eliminating those that would likely be exempt from release, and produce documents in the next 30 days.
Cooper said that he could not think of a third party exemption that would prevent the release of correspondence between Giuliani and top State Department officials regarding Ukraine.
“This is a crack in the administration’s stonewall," American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers told reporters after the hearing. “If Mike Pompeo wants to fight so hard to keep [documents] out of the hands of chairman Schiff, we are happy to be in court making that more difficult.”
Earlier today, before Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper was scheduled to testify behind closed doors, a group of Republicans stormed the room, known as the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, in protest.
The Republicans involved are not on the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry and are therefore barred from today's closed testimony.
A committee official told CNN that the House Republican Members violated House deposition rules by entering the SCIF anyway.
"The stunt, in service of the President’s demand that they ‘fight harder’ to obstruct a legitimate impeachment inquiry, has meant that the witness has had to wait for hours for them to leave," the source said. "They engage in this circus-like behavior because they can’t defend the President’s egregious misconduct."
The source also criticized the Republican Members for causing a major security breach by bringing their electronics into the SCIF.
"Although several members later removed their devices, after being advised by the Sergeant at Arms and security personnel that there were members still in possession of electronic devices, some Republican members refused to completely remove them,” the source said.
Yesterday, Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, testified that he had been told President Trump would withhold military aid to the country until it publicly declared investigations that could help his reelection chances.
Here's how some Republican senators are responding to Taylor's testimony:
- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he wants to wait for all of the testimony to be presented before commenting.
- Susan Collins, a senator from Maine, said it’s “an important piece of evidence” but said she wants to hear more to get a full picture.
- Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said, “I’ve seen the headlines but I haven’t read anything.” She then complained that no one is hearing first hand, so it’s hard to know what to believe.
- Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said, “I haven’t read it. They won’t let us see the transcripts.”
- Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the Senate, when asked if he had seen evidence of quid pro quo said: "No, there’s plenty to discredit, so that gets me back to the basic thing we need: transparency... How can I even answer your questions? The only person whose been transparent in this whole process is the President.”
You can read the full text of Taylor's opening statement here.
Rep. Matt Gaetz’s protest today has been on his calendar for about a week, a GOP congressman involved in the demonstration told CNN.
However, it was initially called as a traditional press conference. It wasn’t until it actually happened that this person – obviously not an organizer – realized they were going to go to the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF.
A key note: President Trump, who met with some of the lawmakers involved in the protest at the White House on Tuesday, had advance knowledge of the plans to attempt entry to the SCIF, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Earlier today, before Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper was scheduled to testify behind closed doors, a group of Republicans stormed the room in protest.
The Republicans are not on the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry, and are therefore barred from today's testimony.
Scott Thurman took a video of the protest, led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Watch the video below:
The House Republicans holding a sit-in inside the House room where Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper was supposed to testify have now left for the House floor, so they can participate in votes.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who was one of the lawmakers taking part in the protest, said they might return after the vote.
President Trump has just fired off a biting tweet about Republican support.
It is unclear who Trump is speaking about, but some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent weeks over both impeachment and his handling of Syria.
Just yesterday, some Republicans in Congress expressed concerns with Trump's conduct following Ambassador Bill Taylor's testimony — though others like Rep. Jim Jordan have argued Taylor did not establish a quid pro quo — as Republicans continue to press Democrats to change how they conduct the impeachment inquiry.
"The picture coming out of it, based on the reporting that we've seen, I would say is not a good one," said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who as the majority whip is a member of Senate GOP leadership. "But I would say also that until we have a process that allows for everybody to see this in full transparency, it's pretty hard to draw an hard and fast conclusions."
Also noteworthy, Trump has pinned this tweet to the top of his profile.
A group of Republican lawmakers this morning stormed into the House room where Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper was scheduled to testify in the impeachment inquiry to protest the way Democrats are leading the impeachment process.
It was a chaotic scene, and some of the Republican protesters are still in the room. Here's everything we know about the storming stunt:
- What happened: About two-dozen House Republicans stormed the closed-door deposition in secure House Intelligence Committee spaces to rail against the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry — political stunt ratcheting up the GOP complaints about the process that threw the deposition into doubt. The group was led by Florida's Rep. Matt Gaetz.
- Why the protesters were not allowed in: They are not on the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry, and are therefore are barred from today's testimony.
- What they want: Republicans say they forced their way in because Democrats are holding impeachment depositions behind closed doors, denying the public the ability to see what's being said by witnesses that could be used to impeach Trump. (Members of the committees leading the inquiry — both Republicans and Democrats — have attended the hearings.)
- They brought electronics — which aren't allowed: The Republicans walked into the hearing room with their electronics, according to Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, which is prohibited in the space, known as a SCIF — a sensitive compartmented information facility — because it's a secure room used for discussing and handling classified information. GOP Rep. Mike Conaway, who is on the House Intelligence Committee, collected the electronics.
- The protest is ongoing: Pizza and snacks were brought into the committee area, signaling the standoff might not be wrapping up anytime soon.
- Where Trump stands: The storm-the-room stunt came two days after Trump said that he thought Republicans "have to get tougher and fight." Many of the Republicans engaged in the protest were at a White House meeting yesterday, according to lawmakers in attendance, though GOP Rep. Mark Meadows said Wednesday's protest was not raised at the meeting.