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

A group of Republican lawmakers loyal to President Trump stormed an impeachment inquiry congressional session Wednesday, forcing it to a standstill for much of the day. Democrats said the disruption indicated that the GOP is “desperate” after Tuesday’s testimony shed critical new light on the president’s actions toward Ukraine. Yamiche Alcindor reports and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • 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-Ala.:

    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-N.C.:

    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-Calif.:

    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-Ohio:

    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-Fla.:

    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.

  • President Donald Trump:

    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.


  • 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:

    What's your view on the Fifth Avenue example? Local authorities couldn't investigate? They couldn't do anything about it?

  • William Consovoy:

    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:


  • Judge Denny Chin:

    That is the hypo.

  • William Consovoy:


  • 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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