Republicans storm private deposition during House impeachment inquiry

By Nicholas Sakelaris

Oct. 23 (UPI) -- A group of House Republicans interrupted a private deposition on Capitol Hill Wednesday between impeachment investigators and a key witness who was sharing information about the Trump administration's handling of Ukraine.

Laura Cooper, a Russia and Ukraine specialist in the Defense Department, was providing testimony to investigators when the group of GOP lawmakers barged in.


"They crashed the party," Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Calif., said.

Several Republicans have complained that they're being left out of the investigation and argued the process should not be limited to three Democratic-controlled committees.

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Lawmakers who witnessed the disruption said intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff took Cooper and left the room and postponed her testimony indefinitely. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., said Schiff subsequently threatened Republican lawmakers with ethics violations.

The House investigation is trying to determine if there was any connection between President Donald Trump withholding military aid to Ukraine and his pressing Kiev officials to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who's a former board member for a Ukrainian gas company. An intelligence official who was the source of a whistle-blower report had expressed concerns Trump may have used the Congress-approved aid as leverage to dig up dirt on a political rival.


"We want this to continue," said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a member of the intelligence committee. "We want to hear from this witness but so do the other members of Congress. This may be within House rules, that's not the question. The question is, is it a good idea to try and impeach the president in secret hearings?"

Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., was among the GOP lawmakers who interrupted the deposition.

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"He doesn't have the guts to come talk to us," Marshall said of Schiff. "He just got up and left. He doesn't have the guts to tell us why we can't come in the room, why he doesn't want this to be transparent. It's the biggest facade, biggest farce of my life."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a member of the oversight committee, said the Republicans interrupted because the investigation has "far too much fact" for their comfort levels.


Earlier Wednesday, Senate Democrats made a legal request for information to learn if there were any White House attempts to use the Justice Department to investigate Trump's political rivals.

Sen. Kamala Harris, herself a Democratic candidate for president next year, and Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island submitted the request under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We need the truth," Harris tweeted Wednesday.

The senators, all members of the upper chamber's judiciary committee, filed the request to compel U.S. Attorney General William Barr to turn over public records related to Ukraine or other potential White House attempts to investigate political rivals. They're searching for any document that contains one of more than 70 different phrases, including "quid pro quo;" "Rudy," for Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani; and "Burisma," the name of the Ukrainian firm Hunter Biden worked for.

"These factual revelations raise serious concerns about the Justice Department's involvement in politically-motivated investigations, at the behest of the White House and Rudy Giuliani," the senators wrote in a joint letter to Barr. "Therefore, we submit a request for records seeking information about the White House's attempts to interfere with federal law enforcement to pursue politically beneficial outcomes."


Two associates of Giuliani's, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, appeared in New York City court Wednesday to plead not guilty to unrelated campaign finance charges.

The senators said they decided on a FOIA request because the Trump administration has so far refused to cooperate with the House investigation, which has issued multiple subpoenas to depose current and former Trump administration officials with knowledge of Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

William Taylor, Trump's ambassador to Ukraine who testified Tuesday, had also expressed concern the two actions were linked in text messages with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland -- who replied that the withheld aid had nothing to do with the Bidens. Sondland told impeachment investigators last week threatening to withhold aid to a foreign government for a personal political favor "would be wrong."

"So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the president, without due process or fairness or any legal rights," Trump complained in a tweet Tuesday. "All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here -- a lynching."

House investigators were scheduled to depose more witnesses on Wednesday and Thursday, but the private hearings were postponed due to the death last week of oversight committee Chairman Elijah Cummings -- the leader of one of three House committees carrying out the impeachment inquiry.


Cummings will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday and his funeral will be held Friday.

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