GOP lawmakers violate House rules to disrupt Pentagon official’s testimony

GOP lawmakers violate House rules to disrupt Pentagon official’s testimony


JUDY WOODRUFF: A day of spectacle in the impeachment
inquiry. Trump-loyal Republicans stormed a congressional
session with investigators and forced it to a standstill for much of the day. That came after Tuesday’s testimony shed critical
new light on the president’s actions toward Ukraine. White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor
begins our coverage. REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): We demand open hearings. The American people deserve nothing less. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: On Capitol Hill, more than
30 House Republicans disrupted a closed-door deposition with a top Pentagon official. They staged a sort a sit-in in the highly-secured
room. They also demanded that impeachment inquiry
hearings be opened to the public. North Carolina Congressman Greg Murphy: REP. GREG MURPHY (R-NC): We have secret hearings
that are going on that we, as the elected members of the United States Congress, 435
members, are not privy to. That is simply not fair. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The scheduled witness was
Laura Cooper, who oversees Ukraine policy at the Pentagon. She was expected to discuss the $400 million
in military aid for Ukraine that President Trump temporarily blocked. But Republicans brought cell phones into the
facility, where phones are not allowed. Cooper’s testimony was delayed for hours. One Democrat in the room called it a stunt: REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): The tactics are in an
effort to delay the inevitable. They have obstructed the hearing. It was an effort to intimidate a witness. They brought in electronics into a secure
room. REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): We can’t even review the
transcripts. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: It was the latest escalation
in a war of words over process. So far, only members of the Intelligence,
Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees have heard the interviews and seen the transcripts. Republicans insist that is unfair. Democrats say it is not unusual to hold sensitive
investigations behind closed doors. Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida sits
on the House Intelligence Committee. REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): I guess, when you’re desperate,
you go back to complaining about the process. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Meanwhile, Democrats sent
a new letter to the State Department demanding e-mails related to the July 25 call between
Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky. They also want any electronic communications
between witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, plus diplomatic cables related to freezing
military aid and memos that document any efforts to have Ukraine open investigations that would
politically benefit President Trump. All of this one day after the stunning testimony
of acting Ukraine Ambassador Bill Taylor. He told lawmakers that President Trump withheld
the military aid in an effort to make Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden
and his son Hunter. House investigators had planned to hear from
other witnesses tomorrow and Friday, but those plans will be delayed by memorial events for
the late Congressman Elijah Cummings. JUDY WOODRUFF: And Yamiche joins me now. So, Yamiche, tell us about — more about this
storming of the — what was supposed to be a closed briefing, a closed interrogation,
the significance of it. And how are the other Democrats and Republicans
reacting? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, Democrats say that
this was really a political stunt by Republicans who are angry about the process and who really
only want to focus on the process because they don’t want to answer questions about
President Trump’s actual actions as it relates to Ukraine. Republicans, though, have a completely different
view of this. They say that this is really about Democrats
not having a lack of transparency — or having a lack of transparency. They say that they’re not really allowing
all members of Congress to partake in this impeachment inquiry, and, as a result, that
is wrong. Tonight, Republicans are really celebrating
this. They think that it was a great thing that
they upended this deposition and had this Pentagon official waiting for hours to testify. They also say that this is really proving
a point that Republicans need to continue to speak out against what they see as an unfair
process. Democrats, on the other hand, are really up
in arms and say that Republicans really violated some critical rules of the House. First, they say that the House parliamentarian
ruled that these Republicans who upended this testimony was actually — they were actually
in the violation of the House deposition rules. Representative Bennie Thompson, who is the
chair of the Homeland Security Committee, he sent a letter to the House sergeant at
arms, who said that — and he was basically saying that the House sergeant of arms needs
to take actions against these Republicans. Add to that that House Democrats are now pointing
to words by former Congressman Trey Gowdy, who once said that depositions behind closed
doors is a really good thing to do because it gets more information out there. They’re now saying that Trey Gowdy’s words
should hold still. Trey Gowdy also once said that rules should
be followed and that there should be no exceptions made. Democrats are also pointing to those words
and saying that Republicans should be listening to the words of Trey Gowdy. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Yamiche, see a completely
separate thing happened today. Two of President — President Trump’s attorney
Rudy Giuliani, two of his associates were in court today. They were accused of illegal campaign contributions. They are pleading not guilty, but one of them
spoke about having some of the evidence covered by executive privilege. Now, that obviously refers to the president. What is the White House saying and how do
they see the significance of this? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, this could be really
problematic for President Trump, when you have an associate of Rudy Giuliani bringing
up executive privilege as it relates to a campaign violation, campaign finance violation
case here. The lawyer for Lev Parnas, who is an associate
of Rudy Giuliani, said that his client never actually worked for President Trump, but that
he did work for Rudy Giuliani and did actually employ him at times as his own personal attorney,
and, as a result, there could be executive privileges there. The attorney for Lev Parnas also said that
this is being brought up because a former attorney for President Trump, John Dowd, told
Lev Parnas that he should be talking about issues of executive privilege. Now, all of this is important because Rudy
Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, he’s someone who has really emerged as a central
figure in this impeachment inquiry. And, as a result, Rudy Giuliani’s work could
be very much connected to President Trump. And that could mean that he’s very connected
to these associates. But we will have to see how the White House
responds. I have put out e-mails and calls to the White
House. They’re not talking about this at this point. But it is something that we’re going to definitely
have to watch. JUDY WOODRUFF: And another separate thing
that happened today, Yamiche, this was in a federal appeals court. And this has to do with the lawsuit against
President Trump to force him to turn over his tax returns. In the course of this proceeding, the president’s
lawyer talked about immunity that the president enjoys against any criminal prosecution, any
sort of criminal accusation, which could be pretty broad. So what is our understanding of what this
is all about? And what are the implications? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: This case is involving a
subpoena from New York prosecutors for President Trump’s financial records. They’re seeking them as part of an investigation
into hush money payments that were possibly paid to Stormy Daniels and other women who
allegedly had affairs with President Trump. The president’s lawyers are saying that the
president has temporary immunity because he’s president of the United States. All of this — all of this is happening as
the president’s words from January 2016 are coming back. Let’s listen to what the president had to
say when he was then candidate Trump. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
My people are so smart. And you know what else they say about my people,
the polls? They say, I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth
Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible. (LAUGHTER) YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Now, those comments are
critically important to this case, because the judge and the president’s attorneys had
a back and forth and exchange about this. Here’s what that exchange had to say. And here’s what that exchange was about today. JUDGE DENNY CHIN, United States Court of Appeals
for the Second Circuit: What’s your view on the Fifth Avenue example? Local authorities couldn’t investigate? They couldn’t do anything about it? WILLIAM CONSOVOY, Attorney: I think, once
the — a president is removed from office, they will — any local authority — this is
not a permanent immunity. JUDGE DENNY CHIN: Well, I’m talking about
while in office. WILLIAM CONSOVOY: No. JUDGE DENNY CHIN: That is the hypo. WILLIAM CONSOVOY: There… JUDGE DENNY CHIN: Nothing could be done? That’s your position? WILLIAM CONSOVOY: That is correct. That is correct. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: So, critics of the president
say that this is really a stunning argument to make. And they say that this idea of temporary presidential
immunity is just not actually part of the law. The president’s attorneys, though, are really
pushing back. So we will have to see how this happens and
how this ends up in this appeals court. But the judge seemed to really want to push
the lawyers on this issue of the president shooting someone and being able to get away
with it, at least while he was in office. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is stunning to even
be thinking in the hypothetical sense about the president shooting someone, but there
you go. Yamiche Alcindor, thank you very much.

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