Five hours after it was scheduled to begin, a top Pentagon official provided testimony in the Capitol, where dozens of House Republicans had blocked her Wednesday morning deposition to protest the procedures underlying the Democrats’ impeachment probe.
Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, had arrived in the Capitol well before the 10 a.m. closed-door hearing was slated to start. A short while later, dozens of Republicans — none of whom were members of the three committees of jurisdiction — stormed into the secure meeting room to protest what they argued was a lack of transparency governing the impeachment process.
“This should have happened in the light of day, and every member should be able to have input,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who endorsed — but did not participate directly — in the sit-in.
“When you’re talking impeachment, you’re taking about removing a duly elected person from office. You should have due process,” he added.
The list of protesting Republicans included a number of House dom Caucus members, such as Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and at least one member of GOP leadership, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Cooper was not in the deposition room when the wave of protesting Republicans arrived, according to lawmakers in the room at the time.
It’s unclear how the hours-long standoff was resolved.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving was seen going into the secure room around 2:30 p.m. But Democrats had rejected the idea that they would demand the physical removal of protesting Republicans, even as House rules stipulate that such depositions are limited to members of the relevant committees.
Cooper was summoned to testify because she would have had a hand in overseeing the military aid to Ukraine that President Trump had withheld over the summer. That decision is a key component of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, particularly after a whistleblower’s allegations that Trump had dangled the funds to pressure Ukrainian leaders for political favors.
Cooper did not deliver opening remarks when her testimony finally began Wednesday afternoon, according to lawmakers in the room.
Behind Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Democrats have been charging ahead with their impeachment investigation. While they haven’t put a timeline on the process, Democrats have said they would like to move “expediently” toward a yet unknown conclusion.