- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 27, 2019

Republicans who have access to the closed-door impeachment inquiry have accused Democrats of strong-arming them behind the scenes and limiting their access to key documents and transcripts, tilting the proceedings against President Trump.

Republican members are allowed to view transcripts only with Democratic committee staffers supervising them in the secure room, GOP sources told The Washington Times.

The committee’s Democratic leaders limit the seating and the number of staff who can accompany Republican lawmakers into the secure room, which is dubbed a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF in Washington-speak.

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The House Intelligence Committee also moved to block members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from participating in Ukraine-related briefings on at least one other occasion in recent weeks, said the sources.

Frustration with the secretive process led to GOP lawmakers storming the SCIF last week.

Republicans who are inside the hearings say their ability to participate is hamstrung by committee leaders such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat.

“It is outrageous and unjustifiable to deny us those basic documents, which are critical to our ability to meaningfully prepare for and participate in this investigation,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The top lawmakers from all three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry — the intelligence, oversight and foreign affairs panels — have sounded alarms about Democrats skewing the process to edge out Republican members.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, said that typically when committees conduct closed-door depositions, the chairmen and ranking members each receive a copy of the transcribed interview.

That isn’t happening in the impeachment inquiry, he said.

This month, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee were told they could not participate in what a senior committee aide called a “routine weapons briefing” about a purchase made by the government of Ukraine because it might have been tied to the military aid package to the country that was withheld unless its president agreed to investigate the role of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s son Hunter in a Ukrainian natural gas company.

House and Senate committee members hit back at the move and claimed the specific weapons deal in the briefing was not tied to the military aid because it was instead purchased by the Ukraine government, according to the aide.

The House members were ultimately allowed in the briefing, but the latest letter signals a shift in cooperation efforts between the committees to conduct the inquiry.

Republicans on the Intelligence Committee said Democrats aren’t properly uploading documents, including letters to White House counsel and other administration officials, to a repository, “thus withholding the existence of such documents from the minority.”

Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd, who serves on the intelligence panel, said he hasn’t been able to see the full copies of evidence and transcripts that have been leaked to the press.

“Why haven’t we gotten access to all the text messages that Ambassador [Kurt] Volker has sent over? I haven’t been able to review that,” Mr. Hurd said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” last week. “These depositions have been going on for 10 or 12 hours a day and you’re not able to sit in all of them.”

The fight over the restricted documents comes as the impeachment process itself is ramping up.

Republicans not on the three leading committees have repeatedly demanded more transparency in the process and access, particularly for those on the House Judiciary Committee.

Former Rep. Trey Gowdy, who once served as Oversight Committee chairman, staunchly defended the closed-door Benghazi hearings he oversaw during the Obama administration and said he still believes public congressional hearings are a “circus.” But the South Carolina Republican said the Democrats’ process is flawed.

“I prefer executive branch investigations because they’re fact-centric, because you wait until the end to draw conclusions, and because there are no leaks. So I do understand the Republican frustration with the current investigation,” he said on “Face the Nation” Sunday.

Democrats have insisted that their investigation is fair by pointing out that Republicans can participate in the hearings and comparing the closed-door process to the work done by special prosecutors in the Clinton and Nixon impeachments.

A staffer for Mr. Schiff declined to comment.

The closed-door hearings don’t appear to be slowing down.

Lawmakers heard from Department of Defense official Philip Reeker on Saturday.

Democrats also issued three new subpoenas Friday demanding that two White House officials from the Office of Management and Budget and State Department counsel Ulrich Brechbuhl testify in the first week of November.

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