It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the direction that the Republican Party has taken since Donald Trump became president. As a small government, social and national security conservative, I’ve had plenty to complain about from the current version of the GOP but, by any standard, Trump-era Republicans sank to a new low yesterday when then stormed into a House committee meeting and proceeded to act like Occupy Wall Street.
Yesterday, about 25-30 Republican congressmen led by Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) staged what has been mockingly referred to as a “panty raid” on the House committee that was holding impeachment hearings. The group of legislators from the “rule of law” party stormed into a secure facility where the House Intelligence Committee was interviewing Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper.
The Republicans had their panties in a wad because Democrats were holding a closed committee hearing that, by definition, did not allow people who were not members of the committee to take part. Trump supporters are upset that the House is using standing committees to investigate President Trump’s behavior rather than holding a vote and forming a select impeachment committee.
Reports from the Capitol say that the Republican interlopers got into yelling matches with Democrats on the committee. Members of the group of trespassers stayed for hours, delaying the hearing. At one point, they even ordered pizza, prompting Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) to complain, “They’re a bunch of brave freedom fighters having pizza in a secure conference room.”
Reps. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), Val Demings (R-Fla.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) were singled out in press reports for their behavior. The trio were described as yelling complaints about the process with Byrne getting into committee chairman Adam Schiff’s (D-Mass.) face. Schiff reportedly did not respond.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) were named as two of the additional congressmen who stayed in the room for about five hours. A comprehensive list of Republican lawmakers who took part in the occupation is not available, but I called my congressman’s office this morning to ask whether he took part. He didn’t and I congratulated him on his good judgment.
The basic premise of the Republican complaint, that the party is being unfairly shut out of impeachment hearings, does not stand up to scrutiny. There is no evidence that Republican members of the Intelligence Committee were barred from the hearing. Only people who were not on the committee were kept out.
In addition to the faulty premise, the Republican raiders violated national security policy by taking cell phones into the sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF). As Wired explains, cell phones and other electronic devices are prohibited within the SCIF because they can contain malware that could infect other computers inside the facility, where some of the most sensitive and secret conversations within the government take place. Some of the Republicans apparently tweeted from their phones while in the SCIF, another violation.
Members of Congress are likely to be prime targets for hackers. Taking a phone into a SCIF would be similar to setting up your government email account on a private server, for example.
So why was the impeachment hearing being held in a secure facility? Because the topic involved secret discussions about foreign governments and foreign aid, including military aid to a country that is at war with Russia.
In broader terms, the hearing was closed to outsiders because it is common practice to not let future witnesses hear other witnesses testify. Hearing someone else’s version of events can change one’s own testimony subtly even if the witness strives for honesty and accuracy. If a witness has something to hide, they can tailor their testimony based on what others have said.
The current hearings are unlike the Clinton impeachment or the congressional Russia hearings because there was no special prosecutor to investigate Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. House investigators are questioning witnesses for the first time and establishing the facts of the case. Democrats have said repeatedly that transcripts will be released and open hearings will be held after the investigative phase is complete, possibly by mid-November.
Political occupations aren’t totally unprecedented even discounting the Occupy movement. In 2011, Democratic protesters occupied the Wisconsin capitol. In 2016, congressional Democrats staged a sit-in in the US House. None of these are good models for conservatives, but even the Democrats did not storm a secure facility and violate national security policy. So, modern Republicans are not only acting like Democrats, they actually one-upped them.
I was a Republican for years, in part because the party represented law and order. Under Donald Trump, however, the party has come to stand against the rule of law when it suits their purpose, which is primarily to protect Donald Trump from the consequences of his bad decisions.
The Republican raiders under Matt Gaetz are actively trying to undermine the legislative process that is aimed at getting to the truth about Trump’s actions with respect to Ukraine. Gaetz and his crowd are a distraction from the fact that the president apparently abused his office for personal gain.
A flagrant disruption and violation of the rules like yesterday’s raid should not go unpunished. The House should censure those who took part and the Republican Party should take the lead if it wants to have any credibility with voters who respect the rule of law. If these actions persist, those who take part in them should be voted out.