The latest on the Trump impeachment inquiry

10:00 p.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Learn about the secure room at the center of the impeachment inquiry

As the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump escalates on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are constantly looking at documents and interviewing key witnesses behind closed doors in a congressional secure room known as a sensitive compartmented information facility or "SCIF."

House Republicans today, as a protest, stormed the SCIF where Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper was preparing to testify before the three House committees leading the inquiry. Some lawmakers even appeared to live-tweet from the SCIF once inside.

The political stunt caused a five-hour delay of the hearing and angered Democrats. House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi requested House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving investigate the "reckless action."

Here's what we know about a SCIF:

  • What is a SCIF: A sensitive compartmented information facility is a secured place where sensitive information can be viewed and discussed without the risk of spying. The most commonly known SCIF is one of the most secured rooms within the White House -- The Situation Room.
  • Who can enter a SCIF: Intelligence community employees with access to SCIFs receive periodic training on the proper way to safeguard sensitive information, according to Josh Campbell, a CNN analyst and former FBI agent. Regarding the SCIF that Republicans crashed on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the members who protested were not on any committees leading the investigation and were therefore barred from entering.
  • What is allowed inside a SCIF: No unauthorized cellphones, laptops or any other electronic devices are allowed inside a SCIF. The use of an electronic device inside the secured room could allow one to record what is taking place.
  • Why is a SCIF important: A secured room is crucial to protecting classified and sensitive information pertaining to US affairs from foreign adversaries. A committee official told CNN that the House Republican members violated House deposition rules by entering the SCIF. 
9:48 p.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Rep. Francis Rooney on lawmakers who stormed the hearing room: “I wouldn’t have done it”

Rep. Francis Rooney, a Republican from Florida who sits on House Foreign Affairs, called the GOP antics today a distraction.

“I wouldn’t have done it. That’s what they like to do. The whole reason I said I want to see the facts is I don’t want to do ideological things," Rooney said.

What happened earlier: Before Cooper was scheduled to testify behind closed doors today, a group of Republicans stormed the room, known as the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, in protest.

The Republicans involved were barred from today's closed testimony because they are not on the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry.

The roughly two-dozen House Republicans entered the SCIF 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 committee official told CNN that the House Republican members violated House deposition rules by entering the SCIF.

8:03 p.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Rudy Giuliani is looking for a defense attorney 

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rudy Giuliani has been approaching defense attorneys for possible representation, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

The move by Giuliani is notable because last week he said he would not be seeking a new lawyer unless he needed to. His previous lawyer, John Sale, was helping him deal with congressional inquiries.

“If they take me to court I would then have to get another lawyer,” Giuliani told CNN on Oct.15. 

Earlier today, Giuliani said he had not heard from the FBI, US Attorneys for the Southern District of New York or any other lawyer pertaining to the Ukraine matter.

He would not directly comment this morning to CNN about whether he has hired or is in the process of hiring a criminal attorney.

Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Giuliani’s business dealings in Ukraine in addition to a counterintelligence probe. Two associates of the former New York mayor were charged on campaign finance-related offenses and pleaded not guilty in a court appearance today.  

As CNN previously reported, people close to Giuliani have been advising him to hire a criminal lawyer as questions linger about his connections to two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Furman.

Giuliani had been resisting that advice, according to those people. Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment. 

7:13 p.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Pentagon official detailed process over how foreign aid is distributed in deposition

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Lawmakers who attended Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper's deposition today said she gave a very technical readout of how foreign aid is disbursed.

Several lawmakers said her testimony helped show that the Ukraine aid deviated from that normal process. 

More on the aid: Trump ordered a hold on nearly $400 million of military and security aid to Ukraine, officials said.

Top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, told lawmakers in a lengthy opening statement yesterday that Trump had demanded Ukraine launch an investigation to help him politically before US security aid to Ukraine would be released, undercutting White House claims there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine.

6:59 p.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Zelensky and advisers discussed pressure from Trump weeks before taking office

GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP/Getty Images
GINTS IVUSKANS/AFP/Getty Images

Two weeks before Volodymyr Zelensky was sworn in as President of Ukraine, the new leader and his team discussed the pressure they were already feeling from the Trump administration and President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to launch public investigations into “corruption” cases, including Burisma, according to a source familiar with discussions at the meeting. 

The source said the meeting was originally scheduled to discuss energy issues but the meeting evolved into a discussion on how to handle the pressure from Trump’s orbit.

Among those present in the May 7 meeting were Zelensky advisers' Andriy Yermak, Andriy Bogdan, an executive for the Ukrainian state-owned natural gas company and American Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat and energy expert.

The Associated Press first reported this story, citing three people familiar with the meeting.

About the meeting: It happened about two weeks after the Zelensky spoke for the first time with Trump. A White House readout of the call said the two leaders discussed working together to “root out corruption.” It is not clear whether the President specifically asked for investigations of Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election or Burisma, the energy company that had hired former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, on the board. 

The source said even in those early weeks, Zelensky and his team realized Ukraine’s relationship with the US and a potential face-to-face meeting with Trump could be at stake if they did not support the continuation of investigations like Burisma.  

The Ukrainians continued to be sensitive to the issue. Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, said during this testimony this week, a top Ukrainian official told him in July that “President Zelensky did not want to be used as a pawn in a US re-election campaign.”

Zelensky himself, during a press conference with Trump in September, denied he felt any pressure, adding: “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be involved, to democratic, open elections of the USA.”

CNN has reached out to members of Zelensky’s transition team and government.

7:10 p.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper wraps up testimony

Patrick Semansky/AP
Patrick Semansky/AP

After about three and a half hours of testimony, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper has left the Capitol.

Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, told reporters that Cooper’s testimony included an (already public) timeline on the aid to Ukraine. He added that the aid was suspended on July 18 and reinstated on Sept. 11.

“Ukrainians didn’t know about it until way late in the process,” Jordan said.

What happened earlier: Before Cooper was scheduled to testify behind closed doors today, a group of Republicans stormed the room, known as the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, in protest.

The Republicans involved were barred from today's closed testimony because they are not on the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry.

The roughly two-dozen House Republicans entered the SCIF 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 committee official told CNN that the House Republican members violated House deposition rules by entering the SCIF.

7:33 p.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Rep. Mark Meadows says there have been no "aha" moments in Pentagon official's testimony

Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images
Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper has been a credible witness and is answering questions factually.

But he added there has been no “aha” moments so far.

"We have had, I guess it's six witnesses, and and all six witnesses have been at the, you know — the star witnesses for the Democrats, and I can just say that there are conflicting testimonies, even today. There was conflicting testimony today on what she gave versus what we heard from Mr. [Bill] Taylor yesterday, and without giving any real specifics on that. So I think it's it's all about bringing all of those together and reconciling the testimony and and comparing that with first hand knowledge," Meadows said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, told reporters that Cooper’s testimony included an (already public) timeline on the aid to Ukraine. He added that the aid was suspended on July 18 and reinstated on Sept. 11.

“Ukrainians didn’t know about it until way late in the process,” Jordan said.

6:07 p.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Rep. Adam Schiff: Trump's allies "are trying to make it even more difficult for these witnesses to cooperate"

Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images
Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, gave a short statement this afternoon about a group of conservative Republicans who stormed a closed-door deposition in protest.

"The President's allies in Congress are trying to make it even more difficult for these witnesses to cooperate but we're grateful that the witness is a real professional and has come forward, not withstanding the obstacles," Schiff said.

Asked if he was concerned about the integrity of the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, Schiff said he was. But he would not elaborate.

What happened earlier: The conservative lawmakers, led by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, barged into the deposition and demanded they be allowed to see the closed-door proceedings where members of three committees planned to interview Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper as part of the impeachment probe into President Trump.