As a confidence builder in the nation’s governing institutions, this outbreak of Impeachment Fever has been an absolute bust. As entertainment, however, it has all the charm and meaning of, um … Battle of the Network Stars. Led by Matt Gaetz this morning, a contingent of House Republicans crashed the House Democrats’ star-chamber process as a protest against the lack of transparency in the quasi-kinda-semi-official impeachment inquiry:
New drama: Roughly two dozen House conservatives stormed the secure hearing room – known as the SCIF – to rail on the process, delaying the Cooper testimony. Connolly said that Louie Gohmert and Bradley Byrne were yelling in the room and railing on what they call a sham process.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) October 23, 2019
Unfortunately for the Republicans, they forgot to leave their electronics behind before entering the SCIF, a big security no-no. That might have blunted their momentum a bit in disrupting the deposition process, but it still made their point about the lack of transparency in this process — except as to how Democrats keep selectively leaking testimony to the media. Why not just release the transcripts if the committee allows its members to leak like sieves?
That brings us to Devin Nunes’ concerns about the process. Did Bill Taylor deliver the smoking-gun testimony House Democrats need to justify their drive for impeachment? Or did GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe “destroy” the former Ukraine charges d’affaires in two minutes flat, as Nunes claimed last night? We’ll never know unless we see the transcripts and the tapes, and Nunes has some potentially bad news on that front as well.
Note how Fox’s chyron team gets successively more editorial as this interview rolls along, too (via Twitchy):
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) on Democrats’ closed-door deposition of William Taylor:
“The truth is, in two minutes, John Ratcliffe destroyed this witness. There is no quid pro quo” pic.twitter.com/O6yb8FFJYH
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) October 23, 2019
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy corroborated Nunes’ account. “We can’t really talk about it,” McCarthy tells Ingraham, but claims that “there is no quid pro quo,” and that Taylor’s information was secondhand at best:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): "In 90 seconds, we had John Ratcliffe destroy Taylor's whole argument." pic.twitter.com/cNgAzLrPYB
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) October 23, 2019
Golly, that’s not how the Washington Post reported it! In fact, Dan Balz intoned in his news report on Taylor’s testimony that “[i]t is no longer a question of whether this happened. It is now a question of how the president explains it and how lawmakers — especially Republicans — choose to respond to it.”
These are two mutually exclusive positions. Either Taylor firmly established a quid pro quo in fact, or he got destroyed on cross-examination. Unfortunately for all of us, both Balz and Fox News have the same problem — they’re getting their information secondhand from the partisans involved. The only way to really know what happened is to see the transcripts, and the serial leaks out of the SCIF make Schiff’s security arguments a bad joke. Everyone’s leaking now.
No one should trust any of these reports until we see the transcripts. In fact, no one should put any confidence in this process until it gets conducted openly, honestly, and fairly. House Republicans might have been conducting a stunt this morning, but the purpose of that stunt is spot-on. The House Democrats’ star-chamber approach is an affront to justice and due process, and their conduct in using selective leaks to goose public opinion from these proceedings is nothing short of despicable. If this impeachment effort can’t withstand public scrutiny and openness, then it shouldn’t be conducted at all.
Addendum: Breaching a SCIF is a serious problem, as this nat-sec expert explained in a Twitter thread, and shouldn’t be lightly sloughed off. However …
A few words on why Gaetz stunt to storm the SCIF to disrupt Laura Cooper's deposition is a VERY serious national security problem.
Note, I worked in that SCIF for HPSCI and handled cybersecurity issues while there.
— Mieke Eoyang (@MiekeEoyang) October 23, 2019
If these proceedings truly required a SCIF, the committee members also wouldn’t be discussing the proceedings in public. Furthermore, if this was truly a nat-sec investigation rather than a political activity, both Republicans and Democrats would have equal access to the transcripts and evidence, which is very much not the case now, as Nunes explains above. These committees could hold these depositions in closed session without SCIFs if closed sessions and depositions were necessary in the first place, which is also not the case. It appears that the reason Schiff chose a SCIF was to prevent Republicans from challenging the process and observing it, while allowing for his own colleagues to spin like dervishes through selective leaks about what takes place in the SCIF.
To put it bluntly: if you want to use a SCIF to conduct a clown show, don’t be shocked and appalled when more clowns show up to join the act.