Testimony at a House impeachment inquiry turned contentious Wednesday when approximately two dozen Republicans, chanting "Let us in!" attempted to storm a secure room, refusing to leave even when turned back by the committee's chairman.
Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense, was scheduled to speak with members of the House Intelligence Committee about details regarding U.S. security assistance for Ukraine when members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus interrupted the proceeding, saying they were protesting the closed-door meeting, The New York Times reported.
Update: 4:38 p.m. EDT Oct. 23: After a five-hour delay, Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense, began her meeting with members of the House Intelligence Committee, The Washington Post reported.
It was not clear how Wednesday's protest was resolved, the newspaper reported. At least 20 Republicans continued to stay inside the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility room (SCIF), but several left the area after 2 p.m. to vote on issues in the House, the Post reported.
Impeachment testimony starts after 5-hour delay caused by Republicans who staged a demonstration and barged into a secure facility https://t.co/B6z37jVndC— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) October 23, 2019
Original report: The caucus, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, interrupted the deposition and demanded to watch the proceedings, CNN reported. The group walked into the restricted area, and chants of "let us in" were heard, according to The Washington Post. Some of the representatives brought cellphones into the area, which are forbidden in the secure site, known as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF).
House Republicans tried to storm a closed-door impeachment deposition, delaying testimony. The committee’s chair summoned the sergeant-at-arms.https://t.co/yUT0R0IQ7c— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 23, 2019
House Intelligence Committee member Mike Conaway, R-Texas, collected the electronics, CNN reported.
"All of us put our electronics in boxes outside," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, told reporters. "That SCIF is used by Congress for lots of highly classified purposes. To compromise that to make a point is deeply troubling."
Several congressmen were miffed by the actions outside the committee room.
“Sit in, stand-in, call it what you want,” Rep. Harley Rouda, D-California, told the Times as he emerged from the room.
Ted Lieu, D- California, accused Republicans of "trying to crash committees which they don't sit on," the Times reported.
“All this is an attack right on the investigation, and so when you don’t have law or the facts, you attack and disrupt the process," Lieu said.
It was the second time in two weeks the group was turned away. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called for the sergeant-at-arms and Capitol Police to disperse the uninvited group, the Times reported.
“They refused us once again,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Arizona, "This is an outrage.”
A SCIF can be a permanent or temporary place. The most notable SCIF is the White House Situation Room, NBC News reported.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has strict guidelines for SCIF technical and security protocols. That includes the makeup of the secure room and guidelines for guards, according to NBC News.
While lawmakers yelled at one another and made angry statements in the aftermath of Wednesday's confrontation, it did not escalate into physical violence like two notable incidents during the 19th century as the Civil War approached.
Shortly before 2 a.m. Feb. 6, 1858, House members debating a pro-slavery constitution in the Kansas Territory exchanged blows. Pennsylvania Republican Galusha Grow and South Carolina Democrat Laurence Keitt traded insults, then punches, according to the archives of the House of Representatives.
More than 30 members of the House got involved in the fracas, with Wisconsin Republicans John Potter and Cadwallader Washburn tearing the hairpiece off Mississippi Democrat William Barksdale, the website reported.
Keitt had been involved in a more violent confrontation more than two years earlier. On May 22, 1856, Keitt and fellow South Carolina Democratic Rep. Preston Brooks severely beat Sen. Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, with a cane in the Senate chamber, according to the House archives.
The assault was in response to a speech by Sumner attacking slavery and pro-slavery lawmakers such as Sen. Andrew Butler of South Carolina, who was related to Brooks.
No blows were exchanged Wednesday, but emotions ran high.
"Show your face where we can all see the travesty that you are trying to foist on America and the degradation of our Republic that you're engaged in," Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, told reporters.
"This (investigation) clearly has far too much fact for their comfort level, so they have to stop it from moving forward," countered Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida.
The central question in the impeachment inquiry is whether President Donald Trump ordered a freeze on military aid to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure that country to launch probes that would benefit him politically, the Post reported.
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