House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (left) speaks at a news conference after Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper arrived for a closed door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry.
The two sides were still trying to work through the standoff by mid-morning, with Republicans who do not sit on the committees leading the inquiry refusing to leave the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) in the basement of the Capitol, and Democrats insisting those lawmakers had no right to be there.
According to people familiar with the matter, some GOP lawmakers brought their cell phones into the secure area — a significant violation of House rules. Another person said the room had to be fully swept for potential security breaches.
Republicans said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was threatening GOP lawmakers with ethics violations. Schiff was also consulting with the House’s sergeant at arms.
Democrats said the stunt showed that Republicans were reeling from Tuesday’s testimony by William Taylor, the top American diplomat in Ukraine, who directly tied Trump to a quid pro quo with the eastern European nation involving critical military aid.
The GOP stunt, led by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), comes as Trump has demanded that Republicans “get tough and fight” for him in the impeachment probe. But Republicans have struggled to defend Trump on the substance of the allegations against him, and have instead focused on hammering Democrats over what they see as an illegitimate impeachment process.
Republicans knew they would be turned away from the closed-door deposition; only members who sit on the authorized committees are permitted to sit in on the sessions. Scores of Republicans who sit on the three panels leading the inquiry have been participating in the witness interviews.
Another person in the room said Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) was “getting in the faces of and shouting at Democrats.”