WASHINGTON — Republican Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise led about 50 of his colleagues in the House as they stormed a secure room and disrupted a closed-door deposition hearing being conducted by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday.
Scalise and the other Republican lawmakers, including Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham, said they were objecting to the secretive nature of the impeachment probe spearheaded by California Rep. Adam Schiff.
"I rise in strong opposition to the way that this impeachment inquiry is being conducted in secret, behind closed doors," Scalise said in a statement. "This is not the way it should be done – maybe in the Soviet Union this is how they conduct hearings. This is not how it should be done in the United States of America."
The interviews are being held in what is called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, which is a totally secure room where members can hear classified information.
The deposition with Laura Cooper, a senior Defense Department official who oversees Ukraine policy, was put on hold when the Republicans entered. They stayed for about four hours.
Democrats deny that Republicans are being treated unfairly, noting they have had equal time to question witnesses and full access to the meetings.
But they said the lawmakers — several of whom do not sit on one of the three committees conducting the hearings — had compromised security at the closed-door deposition.
Scalise, the Republican Whip in the House of Representatives, has made his opposition to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine clear over social media and through statements since the inquiry began.
Ralph Abraham, another member of Louisiana's delegation, was one of the Republicans present at the Wednesday morning press conference when it evolved into the disruption.
Abraham, a member of the Armed Services Committee, argued that him and other members of that committee should be allowed in for hearings detailing matters that concern the military.
Under House rules, the closed-door hearings are only open to members of the Oversight, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees.
Clay Higgins, a Republican who represents Louisiana's Port Barre area, is the only member of the state's delegation who has been taking part in the hearings.
Higgins is a member of the Oversight committee.
In an emailed statement to WWL-TV, he pushed back against claims that Republicans stormed the room.
"My colleagues entered in an orderly manner after identifying themselves as members of Congress and asking what authority Chairman Schiff had to deny their entry," Higgins said.
Higgins said he understood the frustration of other House Republicans, calling the hearings "unnecessarily secretive" with "zero due process."
“My Republican colleagues are frustrated," Higgins said. "As a member of the Oversight Committee, I’m allowed access to these unnecessarily secretive depositions, however, most Republicans are barred. There’s been zero due process, no adherence to established precedent, and Democrats have totally rejected any measure of transparency during this extremely partisan effort to repeal the 2016 presidential election. It’s understandable that my Republican colleagues feel a need to convey this miscarriage of justice to the American people.”
As a series of diplomats have been interviewed in the probe, several of them detailing Trump's efforts to persuade Ukraine to investigate a political rival, many Republicans have been silent on the president's behavior.
But for Louisiana, all representatives except the only Democrat, Cedric Richmond, have come out in defense of the president, or at least against the impeachment process.
The standoff came the day after a top U.S. diplomat testified that he was told Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine until the country's president went public with a promise to investigate Democrats.
Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California said Republicans didn't want to hear from Cooper because they were "freaked out" by what William Taylor told lawmakers.
Ed. Note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.