The day after damaging testimony from a former top U.S. diplomat undermined President Trump’s claim that there was no quid pro quo in the administration’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine while demanding an investigation into Trump’s political opponents, a mob of House Republicans stormed a secure congressional chamber where a new impeachment deposition was to take place on Wednesday.
Ostensibly there to protest a lack of transparency and due process for the president, the crowd of more than 40 GOP Congress members recklessly upended House protocol, including creating a national security risk by bringing personal cell phones into the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF).
“Let us in! Let us in!” they chanted.
The protesters were organized by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), an unabashed Trump loyalist. But the operation roped in a member of GOP leadership: the minority Whip, Steve Scalise (R-La.), who decried the “Soviet-style” confidentiality of the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry. Also in attendance were a pair of GOP members who’ve been stripped of their committee assignments by their own party: white supremacist Steve King (R-Iowa) and Duncan Hunter, the California representative under indictment for misusing campaign funds, a conspiracy to which his wife has already pleaded guilty. In a strange twist, other elected officials involved in the stunt to protest being shut out of the impeachment process included numerous congress members with clearance to sit in on the proceedings in the first place, such as Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) the ranking member of the Oversight Committee.
One congressman, Alex Mooney of West Virginia — whose Twitter profile picture is a snapshot of him standing with president Trump and whose pinned tweet is a photo of him with Trump on Air Force One — broadcast a call from a landline inside the SCIF with a message for his constituents:
BREAKING–> My report from inside the SCIF hearing room where we are exposing Adam Schiff's secret so-called impeachment inquiry. pic.twitter.com/fPcPJ94R9y
— Rep. Alex Mooney (@RepAlexMooney) October 23, 2019
The spectacle was targeted at an audience of one, President Trump, who retweeted Scalise’s video of the press conference that preceded the sit-in. Trump has reportedly been fuming that Republicans are not doing more to push back against the threat of his impeachment, which he yesterday compared to a “lynching.”
The protest had little impact on actual impeachment proceedings. The episode briefly delayed the testimony of Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense and the Pentagon’s Ukraine expert.
But experts, including Mark Hertling, former commanding general of U.S. Army in Europe, are warning that the “childish and stupid stunt” could have compromised national security.
A great thread by @MiekeEoyang. She’s right…there are many SCIFs in military facilities, embassies, and key locations. But this one that @RepMattGaetz and his flash mob stormed is critical. A dangerous, childish and stupid stunt from a national security perspective. https://t.co/emhaUWWcUM
— Mark Hertling (@MarkHertling) October 23, 2019
Mieke Eoyang, who worked on cybersecurity for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, emphasized that the phones of members of Congress are high-value hacking targets for foreign intelligence services eager to listen in on U.S. government proceedings. She recapped her Twitter thread in this way: “To disrupt testimony from a DOD official on how the President endangered national security for both the US and Ukraine by withholding military aid, the President’s allies further endangered national security by storming the SCIF with their electronic devices.”
Republicans, for their part, shrugged off concerns that their actions could have created a security breach. The reaction from Jordan — who championed efforts to investigate Hillary Clinton’s misuse of a private email server as a national security threat — was particularly ironic. He dismissed concerns that his GOP colleagues had brought their devices into the secure chamber: “They shouldn’t do that,” he told reporters. “It was a mistake, so no big deal.”