After crashing a witness testimony in a closed-door hearing, Republicans lashed out at committee leaders behind the impeachment probe and demanded the release of transcripts amid what they called a “Soviet-style” investigation of the president’s business dealings with Ukraine.
A scheduled testimony from a Pentagon official was delayed by more than five hours after Republicans stormed into a House intelligence committee hearing inside a secure room at the Capitol.
The group, led by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz and House minority whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, rushed into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, one of several secure rooms throughout the Capitol that are limited to members of relevant committees.
Mr Scalise said the closed-door hearings were an attempt to “overturn the results of the 2016 election a year before Americans go to the polls”.
Republicans also brought their mobile phones into the classified room and appeared to be able to tweet from inside, raising national security concerns and potentially violating House rules.
Two Republican congressman — Mark Meadows, a member of the oversight committee, and Mike Conaway, a member of the intelligence committee — reportedly warned Republicans rushing the room to get rid of their phones.
Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, who chairs the intelligence committee, also called the Sergeant-at-Arms to disperse Republicans who aren’t members. The Sergeant-at-Arms and other officers asked Republicans to remove their phones from the room and they refused.
Earlier this month, Mr Gaetz - a loyal Trump supporter - was asked to leave another committee hearing that he wasn’t a member of after he tried to gatecrash it.
With their protest, Republicans have pivoted from challenging the substance of the testimonies, which have become increasingly damaging to the president, and are now attacking the process itself — despite the fact that Republicans also sit on impeachment committees and receive the same information and have the ability to question witnesses as their Democratic peers.
Republicans say they are protesting what they describe as secretive proceedings and are demanding transcripts of witness testimony, despite the sensitivity of the flow of information that's intended to prevent compromising leaks.
Mr Trump was aware that the group of Republicans had planned to crash testimony and hoped that the stunt would speed the release of those transcripts, which he apparently believes would exonerate him, according to Bloomberg.
After the Republicans' stunt, Mr Trump complained on Twitter that Democrats “allow Republicans Zero Representation, Zero due process, and Zero Transparency”.
Proceedings with Pentagon official Laura Cooper, who oversees US policy in Ukraine, were put on hold until later this afternoon.
The chaos came a day after crucial testimony from Bill Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine, whose damning statement to Congress explicitly linked Mr Trump's request for information into former vice president and political rival Joe Biden to military aid to the country, contrary to Mr Trump's denial of the so-called "quid pro quo" arrangement captured on a July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Mr Trump and his supporters have been trying to undermine the legitimacy of impeachment hearings as Mr Trump has called for more protection from fellow Republicans.
The president called the probe a "lynching," and South Carolina Senator and Trump ally Lindsey Graham told Fox News that the hearings were a "closed-door, behind-the-scenes, lack-of-due process inquiry."
"We should dismiss it without a trial because it's illegitimate on its face, and if it's allowed to stand, there's no protection for future presidents," Mr Graham said.
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