House Chair Asks Sergeant-at-Arms to ‘Take Action’ After Republicans Enter Secure Hearing

October 24, 2019 Updated: October 24, 2019

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked the top congressional law enforcement official to “take action” after Republican lawmakers brought in electronic devices to a secure facility as a witness was under deposition during the impeachment inquiry.

Thompson alleged that Republicans’ decision to bring phones into the sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) violated intelligence community protocols to protect classified information.

“This unprecedented breach of security raises serious concerns for committee chairman, including me, responsible for maintaining SCIFs,” Thompson said in a letter (pdf) to Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving on Wednesday.

He asked Irving to take action on the matter, but he did not elaborate.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) (C), House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) (L), and other Republican House members in the Capitol Visitor Center on Oct. 23, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Bill Taylor (C), the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on Oct. 22, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“As such, I am requesting you take action with respect to the members involved in the breach. More broadly, I urge you to take House-wide action to remind all members about the dangers of such reckless action and the potential national security risks of such behavior,” Thompson said.

On Wednesday morning, around 30 Republican lawmakers entered the SCIF to witness depositions. Only the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform committees are tasked with heading the impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said he collected lawmakers’ phones and brought them outside the room in accordance with the rules.

Rep. Jim Jordan, (R-Ohio), speaks to the media
House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, (R-Ohio), speaks to the media during a press conference in Washington on Oct. 23, 2019. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

“You certainly want a secure environment, but at the same time I think everybody wants to hear exactly what’s going on,” Meadows told reporters, according to The Hill.

Republican lawmakers said that staff members sent out tweets as they were in the SCIF.

A number of other Democratic lawmakers blasted the move and namely Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who initiated the press conference before the House members entered the secure meeting.

“The GOP isn’t being shut out of this process — the Republican members of the relevant committees or their staff are in the SCIF for these depositions already,” the Democratic National Committee tweeted, claiming that they are “willing to put our national security at risk for a desperate political stunt.”

The lawmakers had “the audacity to want to know what was going on behind closed doors where Democrats have engaged in a strategy of secret interviews, selective leaks, theatrical, weird performances of transcripts that never happened and lies about whistleblowers,” Gaetz later told Fox News on Wednesday night.

“It’s reasonable to suggest we would want more transparency on behalf of the millions of people we represent,” he said.

Gaetz said that moving forward, House Republicans “need to be tougher in exposing this for the kangaroo court that it is,” referring to the impeachment proceedings.

In the interview, he called on Americans to contact their congressmen.

He said that they should then ask: “Why doesn’t President Trump get the same due process from Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats that Newt Gingrich and the Republicans.”

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