The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Republicans are holding up the impeachment inquiry

And why their logic for doing so falls short

Democratic and Republican lawmakers addressed how a group of GOP members barged into a secure hearing room on Oct. 23. (Video: The Washington Post)

On Wednesday, about 30 Republicans successfully got into the secure location in the Capitol basement where the impeachment inquiry is taking place, as a Pentagon official involved in overseeing the Ukraine aid in question was about to start testifying. They held up the hearing for several hours, bringing their phones and taking photos in what is supposed to be a secure location for classified information. And they tweeted about it a lot, making sure news cameras captured it all. Democrats were considering bringing in Capitol Police.

The Republicans’ message was simple: They want to show that Democrats are conducting this inquiry into Trump behind closed doors rather than out in public.

Which is true. But what Republicans did Wednesday was a political stunt, as is clear from the facts underlying it. They are:

All Republicans on the three committees involved in this inquiry (Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight) are allowed into the hearings. Lawmakers from other committees are not allowed in, be they Republican or Democrat.

Who’s involved in the Trump impeachment inquiry

These hearings are taking place behind closed doors because lawmakers think things will be more productive that way. “The private ones always produce better results.” That is not a Democrat we are quoting. It is a Republican, former congressman Trey Gowdy, who conducted the Benghazi investigation into Hillary Clinton a few years ago and pushed back against criticism that most of the hearings were in private. A Democratic aide working on the impeachment inquiry emailed around Gowdy’s comments on Wednesday to underscore that when the shoe was on the other foot, Republicans were fine with having things behind closed doors.

Democrats are also acutely aware that two of the other recent times they held public hearings on Trump, things did not go well for them. Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski openly mocked lawmakers in front of the cameras, and the shaky delivery from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was as much of a story as what he said.

The Democrats may soon hold public hearings, reports CNN. Even when those hearings are public, lawmakers not on the key committees will not be able to ask questions.

This is not a court of law. Another talking point Republicans are using is to compare this impeachment proceeding to a criminal trial. In a criminal trial, the accused gets to sit through the prosecution, call his own witnesses, present his own defense.

But this is not a court of law, this is Congress. And the Constitution gives Congress broad latitude to decide how to conduct its impeachment inquiry. It can have a vote to formalize it, or not. It can hold closed-door hearings with witnesses, or it can open them to the public. How the House gets from considering impeaching a president to taking a vote to impeach the president is up to it. The president is not being charged with a crime, so the rules of a criminal trial do not apply.

It is when an impeachment gets to the Senate that things more closely resemble a trial; the senators are jurors, and Trump’s team can call witnesses. So it is deliberately misleading for Republicans in the House to accuse Democrats of holding a sham trial. There is not a trial going on.

Another fact is this: Disregarding all that nuance and storming into the inquiry, claiming it is an unfair process, helps Trump try to undermine it in broad terms, right as he is struggling to push back against specific facts that look worse and worse for him.