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GOP lawmakers crash their way into session on impeachment

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville speaks at a Coffee With Your Congresswomen event on Oct. 10 at the Johnstown Senior Center. (Provided photo — Briana O’Hara, The Leader-Herald)

Around two dozen Republican congresspeople stormed a closed-door House impeachment inquiry hearing Wednesday morning, demanding to sit in on a planned testimony of a Pentagon official to the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees, which U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik was attending.

The disruption, which took place in a secure Capitol room where the committees have been questioning witnesses for the impeachment inquiry, delayed the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura Cooper, by around five hours.

Stefanik is a member of the House Intelligence Committee and according to her spokeswoman Madison Anderson, was already in the “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility” room and when the protest took place.

The intruding congresspeople were not members of the three investigating committees and a chaotic scene in the basement of the building ensued as they brought cell phones into a secure area and the House’s sergeant-at-arms arrived to intervene.

Bradley Byrne, R-Ala, reportedly yelled at House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., led a press conference calling the impeachment probe an attempt “to overturn the results of an American presidential election” and decrying the secretive process.

Eventually the Republican lawmakers left the area and the testimony got started in the afternoon.

The Democrats involved in the investigation stood by their decision to hold the initial interviews in private, saying they must be done that way to prevent witnesses from coordinating testimony and that the interview transcripts will be made public when they will not jeopardize the investigation.

Closed doors

The impeachment inquiry is centered around if President Donald Trump forged a quid pro quo with the Ukrainian president in exchange for investigations into his political opponents, which was first alleged by an anonymous whistleblower.

Stefanik, who has been a part of the inquiry, recently called it a “closed-door, unfair and unprecedented process.”

She has disputed the way the inquiry has been conducted from the beginning, saying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should have taken a vote on whether to begin the process in the first place, as other impeachment inquiries have started, decrying the closed-door meetings and saying that congressmembers have inadequate access to transcripts.

On Monday Stefanik voted in favor of bringing a resolution to the floor to censure Schiff, whom she called “unfit” to serve as chairman of the intelligence committee. Democrats blocked the resolution.

Stefanik has supported the inquiry, saying congressmembers should know all the facts. She has said that she does not believe Trump should be impeached, saying his call with the Ukrainian president, detailed in a memo, did not reach the level of impeachable offense.

She has stated that she did not believe there was a quid pro quo.

Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirmed last week that the U.S. was withholding millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine to encourage the country to participate in an investigation into the Democratic National Convention’s server regarding the 2016 election.

Mulvaney did not balk when a reporter told him “what you just described was a quid pro quo” and he said that sort of thing happens “all the time.”

Stefanik declined an invite to Camp David for a retreat with Mulvaney and several Republicans last weekend. The Times Union reported that the retreat’s main topic was likely impeachment defense.

Stefanik was not available for comment for this article by press time because she was still in the testimony hearing.

Tedra Cobb, who is running against Stefanik for New York’s 21st Congressional District seat in the 2020 election, also released a statement.

“I support the inquiry and it’s goal in finding the facts in this grave matter of national security,” Cobb wrote in an email. “The investigation continues to bring to light concerning things about the president’s behavior regarding Ukraine. I find it disappointing that instead of upholding her constitutional duty to the country and her constituents, Congresswoman Stefanik continues to use this crisis to raise money and advance her political career. As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Stefanik should stop playing political games and follow the evidence wherever it may lead.”