Republicans storm hearing room to disrupt Trump impeachment inquiry
US diplomat says he was told Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine until its president promised to investigate Democrat Biden
More than two dozen Republican legislators stormed into a high-security hearing room and delayed testimony by a key Pentagon witness in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
The politicians, who were not authorised to attend the hearing, surged into the room where Laura Cooper, the US defence official overseeing Ukraine and Russia matters, was due to testify behind closed doors before Republican and Democratic politicians.
The protesting Republicans were encouraged by Mr Trump to get tougher in fighting Democratic efforts to impeach him.
They yelled complaints that the Democrats running the inquiry by three house committees were conducting the process in private.
After about four hours, Ms Cooper began her testimony when the Republicans finally left the room.
The impeachment inquiry focuses on Mr Trump's request for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden, one of his rivals in the 2020 presidential election, for his personal political benefit.
"The American people have a voice in this process," House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said after the disruption. "They have a right to know. It should be in the sunlight."
The Republicans complain of a lack of transparency in the inquiry but the US Constitution gives the House wide leeway in how to conduct the impeachment process and set rules for the investigation.
"They're freaked out. They're trying to stop this investigation," Democratic Representative Ted Lieu said.
"They know more facts are going to be delivered that are absolutely damning to the president of the United States."
A witness inside the room said the Republicans brought mobile phones into the hearing, even though electronic devices are forbidden.
A House intelligence committee official said some Republicans refused to remove the phones, breaking the rules.
Intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff said that the witnesses testifying defied White House attempts to keep them quiet.
"The president has urged his acolytes in Congress to use other means to try to prevent their testimony but they won't be successful," Mr Schiff said.
Mr Trump said on Monday that "Republicans have to get tougher and fight" the impeachment and that the Democrats are "vicious and they stick together".
"It never ends. The Do-Nothing Dems are terrible," he wrote on Twitter earlier on Wednesday, later adding their "case is dead".
Before the hearing room was stormed, dozens of House Republicans appeared before reporters, with some denouncing the impeachment process as a "joke", a "railroad job", a "charade" and "Soviet-style".
They also complained that the House did not hold a vote formally authorising the investigation.
Republicans who are members of the three committees have taken part in the process throughout.
Ms Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defence for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, was expected to face questions about Mr Trump's decision this year to withhold $391 million (Dh1.4 billion) in security aid to Ukraine, which was approved by Congress.
In testimony on Tuesday, William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, said Mr Trump had made the aid contingent on Ukraine announcing that it would conduct politically motivated investigations the president demanded.
The inquiry could lead to the House passing formal charges, known as articles of impeachment, prompting a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate on whether to remove Mr Trump from office.
Updated: October 24, 2019 03:44 AM