The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Here’s how little Republicans were allowed to participate in the closed-door depositions

About two dozen House Republicans storm a secure room on Capitol Hill — a sensitive compartmented information facility — on Oct. 23, 2019. This is where closed-door hearings in the impeachment inquiry took place. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

When a group of Republican legislators barged into a secure facility on Capitol Hill last month to register their opposition to impeachment inquiry depositions taking place behind closed doors, we couldn’t help but register an unusual aspect of the stunt.

Of the 197 Republicans in the House, 48 had authorization to attend the hearings, either by virtue of their positions or their membership on relevant committees. Of the 41 who signed on to the protest, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, nearly a third could have just gone in and observed the hearing itself.

Part of the point of the camera-friendly effort was to raise broader questions about the extent to which Republicans were given a role in the deposition hearings. The impeachment inquiry was a function of Democrats holding a majority in the House, and Republicans argued that they were not being given a chance to interview witnesses or generally guide the outcome.

Fox News’s Sean Hannity summarized the line of argument on his Oct. 29 show.

“Another day of secret meetings, secret hearings, secret transcripts, a secret whistleblower, non-whistleblower, hearsay whistleblower, all because of a phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine,” he said. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) was “calling in witness after witness but only behind closed doors, without real Republican due process at all to speculate on the president’s intentions.”

Earlier that day, the witness who offered testimony to impeachment investigators was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a member of the National Security Council who’d participated on the July 25 call referred to by Hannity. Last week, investigators released a transcript of Vindman’s testimony, more than 8,000 lines of text in which he told members of Congress what he’d been privy to in his role.

What that transcript also allows us to do is see how unbalanced it was for Republicans, the extent to which Democrats dominated the questioning. We went through it line-by-line (as you can, should you wish), categorizing what was being asked and answered depending on who asked it. We set aside contextual issues or objections as a separate category of engagement and identified the relatively few instances in which a speaker couldn’t be identified or information was redacted.

The result looked like this.

Following the introductory discussion and Vindman’s opening statement, there were five timed segments over the course of the day in which both Democrats and Republicans had the floor.

The flow is pretty obvious visually. Each party took turns asking questions of Vindman, led by the Democrats. Generally, questioning was delegated to staff attorneys for either the Democratic majority or the Republican minority. At some points, members interjected with questions, as did Schiff.

There were a number of verbal scuffles between Republicans and Democrats, generally when Republicans had the floor. Many of those debates were instigated by objections from Vindman’s attorney. Several were driven by the Republicans’ interest in asking questions about the whistleblower.

Overall, though, the distribution of the questioning is obvious. About 44 percent of the transcript is made up of questions or answers from Democratic members or staff. About 41 percent is from the Republicans. The remaining 15 percent was discussion and objections.

The Post reported from the outset of the inquiry that the talking point about Republicans being excluded from the process was overwrought. The release of the transcripts makes that obvious. While there were certainly contentious moments in which Republican efforts to focus on a particular line of questioning were opposed by the Democrats, nearly 2,000 lines of the 8,100-line transcript are the result of Vindman answering questions posed by Republican members of Congress or attorneys for the Republican minority.