Politics & Government

‘Whole thing is a sham.’ Kansas and Missouri Republicans storm impeachment inquiry

Three lawmakers from the Kansas City region were among the group of House Republicans who disrupted the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

In the chaotic aftermath, Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, told reporters that between 15 and 30 GOP lawmakers stormed the secure room where impeachment hearings are taking place in an effort to force House Democrats to make the proceedings public.

“This whole thing is a sham. The people of Kansas are sick and tired of these impeachment hearings. We have impeachment fatigue,” said Marshall, a western Kansas congressman who is running for U.S. Senate in 2020.

Under the current procedure, lawmakers of both parties are allowed in the secure room if they are members of the three committees conducting the impeachment inquiry.

The Republicans were led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, according to multiple reports.

Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kansas, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri, were also among those who participated. All three have competitive races next year in which President Trump’s support could be crucial.

Marshall’s voting record has closely aligned with Trump, and he has been a vocal supporter of the president’s agenda in his public commentary as well.

His competition for the GOP nomination includes former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who served on Trump’s transition team and won the president’s endorsement in last year’s gubernatorial primary.

The Kansas Republican tore into Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and who is one of the leaders of the inquiry. Marshall told reporters that Schiff left the room without speaking to the Republicans who had entered the hearing.

“He doesn’t have the guts to talk to us. He left. He just got up and left. He doesn’t have the guts to tell us why we can’t come in the room, why he doesn’t want this to be transparent,” said Marshall, fired up in the tone of a pro wrestler trashing an upcoming opponent.

“It’s the biggest façade, the biggest farce, I’ve ever seen in my life. Now we’re just in there yelling and screaming at each other. If this was out open and transparent then the American public could see exactly what’s going on. That’s all we’re wanting is for this to be open and transparent.”

In a letter to colleagues last week, Schiff said the closed-door hearings were necessary because Attorney General William Barr declined to investigate the issues being weighed by House committees.

“The reasons for conducting interviews in private are sound and based on the best interests of a thorough and fair investigation. Unlike in past impeachment proceedings in which Congress had the benefit of an investigation conducted in secret by an independent prosecutor, we must conduct the initial investigation ourselves,” Schiff said in the October 16 letter.

“This is the case, because the Department of Justice under Bill Barr expressly declined to investigate this matter, after a criminal referral had been made.”

Schiff’s ‘secret bunker’

The inquiry centers on a July phone call in which Trump urged the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President and Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden’s son and allegations that he planned to withhold military aid to the country unless the investigation went forward.

In recent days, Republicans have sought to shift the conversation from the allegations against Trump to the closed-door process used by House Democrats to interview witnesses. And on Monday, Trump exhorted them to “get tough and fight” the inquiry.

A committee official, who asked for anonymity in order to speak freely, called the GOP action a “stunt” in which more than two-dozen Republicans sought to prevent a witness from cooperating by forcing their way into the secure room in violation of House deposition rules.

“They engage in this circus-like behavior because they can’t defend the President’s egregious misconduct,” the official said.

A CNN report identified the witness as Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper.

Hartzler said they were only pursuing information to which they were entitled.

“As members of Congress, we have the right to access information collected inside the chambers of Congress,” Hartzler said on Twitter hours after the incident.

“If this is an impeachment inquiry, then ALL Members of Congress, no matter what your party or committee assignment, need to be included.”

Hartzler, a vocal supporter of Trump, faces a 2020 challenge from Democrat Lindsey Simmons, an attorney who previously worked for former Sen. Claire McCaskill among other prominent Missouri Democrats.

Watkins was also in the crowd of Republicans to follow Gaetz, his office confirmed. Unlike Marshall and Hartzler, Watkins does have permission to enter the secure room as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“As one of the few Members allowed in Schiff’s secret bunker, I’m proud to support my colleagues who entered the SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility) today in search of transparency and due process amid Schiff’s Kangaroo court,” Watkins said in a statement.

Trump campaigned in Topeka on Watkins behalf in October of 2018, helping elevate the freshman Republican to a narrow win over a better-funded Democrat last year.

Watkins currently lacks a Democratic opponent for 2020, but he’ll face a primary challenge from Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner.

Keeping Trump’s support could be crucial in helping Watkins in the showdown with LaTurner, who has the backing of several GOP establishment figures in Kansas.

In a speech on the House floor earlier this week, Watkins denounced Democrats for conducting the inquiry behind closed doors.

“I think to myself the entire country should see what the Democrats are up to. The entire world should and soon that will happen,” Watkins said Tuesday.

“While I don’t know what I’m even allowed to share because I don’t understand these official formalities, I do know that I will tell the world everything that I can and the truth will come out with time.”

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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