Republicans are calling the closed-door depositions in the ongoing impeachment inquiry “Soviet-style,” describing one hearing room as a “dungeon” and a “super secret bunker” and comparing Democrats to scattering cockroaches and an “angry pack of rabid hyenas.”
Interested in Impeachment Inquiry?
Add Impeachment Inquiry as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Impeachment Inquiry news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
“I would say if we pulled this stunt — you’d be eating us alive,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters on Thursday of the ongoing impeachment inquiry being led by House Democrats.
But as with most of what happens in Washington, the most dramatic statements on the two dozen Republican lawmakers storming a deposition by a Pentagon official are missing important context.
(MORE: Graham introduces resolution calling for more impeachment inquiry rights for Trump)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
About two dozen House Republicans enter a sensitive compartmented information facility where a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees takes place at the U.S. Capitol, Oct. 23, 2019.
Here are three things to know:
Republicans relied on closed-door testimony on Benghazi
Democrats insist that an investigation, which includes interviewing witnesses, doesn’t have to be public even if the trial would be. (In this case, the trial would be in the Senate, following a House impeachment vote.)
Closed-door depositions are also practical. With testimony kept secret, other witnesses aren’t tempted to adjust their answers. And, without cameras rolling, lawmakers are more likely to dispense with the theatrics and work more quickly.
(MORE: As Trump says, ‘where’s the whistleblower?’ Dems attempt to keep identity secret)
That’s why in 2015, Republicans relied heavily on secret depositions in its investigation into then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of security in Benghazi, Libya, where armed militants stormed the U.S. mission there and killed the ambassador and others.
Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who led the Benghazi investigation, said in fall 2015 that his committee held some 50 interviews “the vast majority of them private,” in part because lawmakers are less likely to bicker without cameras present.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., walks down a stairwell to attend a House Intelligence Committee meeting interviewing former White House strategist Steve Bannon behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, Jan. 16, 2018, in Washington.
(MORE: Inside the Benghazi Committee Report)
“The private ones always produce better results,” Gowdy told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in October 2015 of congressional investigations.
Earlier this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement that could have come from a Republican four years ago: “This is about patriotism, not politics or partisanship,” Pelosi said.
Michele Eve Sandberg/REX via Shutterstock
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks at a press conference at Bonaventure Town Center Club, Oct. 3, 2019, in Weston, Fla.
Republicans insist impeachment is different.
“If this is an impeachment inquiry, then ALL Members of Congress, no matter what your party or committee assignment, need to be included,” tweeted Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who was among the Republicans who stormed the meeting.
(MORE: Trump uses taxpayer-funded speech to attack ‘nasty’ Democrats, impeachment probe )
There is a downside to secrecy
The downside to a closed-door approach is that Democrats, as well as Republicans, risk losing public support as information is cherry picked and selectively leaked to the press.
At the moment, Americans are only hearing details involving Ukraine if committee staff on either side quietly shares it with the media. That makes it much more likely that the answers provided to the public is only part of the story — and over time, the public could lose interest or come to suspect the investigation is politically driven and therefore, less credible.
(MORE: Republicans storm secure hearing room, force delay in questioning on Ukraine aid)
The latter would benefit President Donald Trump, who has said the allegations of a quid pro quo with Ukraine are without merit.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shake hands during a meeting in New York on Sept. 25, 2019.
“Thank you to House Republicans for being tough, smart, and understanding in detail the greatest Witch Hunt in American History,” Trump tweeted Thursday.
Republicans are in the room and get to ask questions too
Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican, had tried earlier this month to crash a witness deposition when the House parliamentarian asked him to leave.
Gaetz, who described Democrats as an “angry pack of rabid hyenas” in a Fox News interview on Wednesday, orchestrated this week’s protest because he said Democrats weren’t relying on any rules.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Shutterstock
Republican Representative from Florida Matt Gaetz joins more than two dozen Republican lawmakers attempting to gather outside the room used by the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into President Trump in the US Capitol Oct. 23, 2019.
That’s not correct. Pelosi is relying on House-approved rules that outline how committees can interview witnesses and release information.
(MORE: Trump rails against impeachment probe, asks why he has to focus on this ‘crap’)
The rules say the committee chair and ranking minority member get to decide what information is made public.
And while Gaetz was not allowed in the meetings because he is not a member of any of the three committees conducting the impeachment inquiry, there are at least 45 Republicans who sit on those committees and are invited and given equal time to ask questions. That’s about 1 in 4 Republicans in the House.
The meetings are held in rooms specifically designed to handle sensitive or classified information.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a staunch ally of Trump, is among those in the room. He has criticized the impeachment inquiry as illegitimate but says both sides are given an opportunity to ask questions.
(MORE: Pelosi describes Trump’s White House ‘meltdown,’ defends impeachment probe)
“There is a clock, with a timekeeper,” Meadows told The Wall Street Journal.