Defense Department official Laura Cooper testified before House committees at a closed-door impeachment hearing Wednesday—eventually. The hearing was delayed for five hours after at least two dozen House Republicans stormed the secure area where Cooper was due to speak and staged a sit-in, demanding that the proceedings be opened up to all lawmakers and the press. Sources tell the AP that Cooper, who oversees Ukraine policy and was appearing under subpoena, eventually spoke for around four hours. She explained how military aid is distributed and answered questions from lawmakers about whether the appropriate steps were followed in the distribution of aid to Ukraine. More:
- "Soviet-style." House Minority Whip Steve Scalise complained that Democrats were trying to impeach the president with "Soviet-style" secret proceedings, Fox reports. "Maybe in the Soviet Union, this kind of thing is commonplace," the Republican said. "This shouldn't be happening in the United States of America."
- Some of them were supposed to be there. The New York Times reports that a quarter of House Republicans, including some of those involved in the sit-in, are committee members allowed to attend the hearings. "They crashed a room where there were a bunch of Republicans getting ready to question a witness," says Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin. "Their attempt to act like Freedom Riders is really an attack on the committee system in Congress." The Times notes that the sit-in ended when lawmakers were summoned to the House for a vote.
- A distraction, Democrats say. Democrats accused Republicans of staging the protests as a distraction from the damaging testimony given Tuesday by former Ukraine envoy William Taylor. "This is a pathetic stunt. They are storming a castle that they already occupied,” said Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski. "It is impossible to understand this from a rational point of view other than there was devastating testimony against the president."
- A discrepancy, Republican says. Politico reports that Cooper, who had sought the release of military aid that Trump allegedly blocked in an effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, was the first Pentagon official to defy the administration's directive not to testify. After her deposition, most lawmakers declined to comment publicly, though GOP Rep. Mark Meadows said there was a discrepancy between her deposition and Taylor's testimony.
- Security issues. Democrats expressed concerns about the Republicans protesters violating security procedures by bringing electronic devices in the secure Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, the AP reports. Some lawmakers tweeted from the room. Rep. Bennie Thompson wrote to the House sergeant at arms, asking for action to be taken against the lawmakers involved in the "unprecedented breach of security." The Hill reports that some Republican staffers worried that the violation of procedures would undercut the House GOP's argument about Democrats not following proper procedures in the impeachment process.
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