Republicans have for weeks blasted the closed-door impeachment process, but transcripts released this week of private depositions show most GOP lawmakers on the three panels at the center of the probe have simply not shown up.
The low attendance for most committee Republicans paints a very different picture of a party that recently stormed the secure room where the depositions have been conducted, demanding to participate in the process. Republican questioning during these private interviews have been driven by a handful of President Donald Trump’s allies and GOP staff.
Conservative Republicans, many closely tied to Trump from the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, have led the GOP questioning, a preview of the coming tumultuous public impeachment process. What is unclear is what role, if any, other Republicans will play.
When they’ve asked questions during these depositions, the president’s allies have criticized the impeachment process, dived into witnesses’ timelines on the Ukraine scandal and resurfaced other controversies, like the so-called Steele dossier.
At least one of Trump’s GOP allies, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, could soon be rewarded with a seat on the Intelligence Committee, which is leading the inquiry. Jordan told Fox News on Tuesday the rumored move would be decided by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and that panel’s ranking member, California’s Devin Nunes.
“I just want to help our team. I just want the country to see the truth here, that the president didn’t do anything wrong,” Jordan said.
Jordan and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, another staunch Trump defender, attended all of the meetings whose transcripts have been made public this week even as most of their Republican colleagues have skipped them.
In a preview of what is likely to be theatrical open hearings, Meadows and another prominent Trump ally, Chip Roy of Texas, played tag-team in questioning Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Aside from criticisms about the impeachment process generally, the pair questioned Sondland about the conditions the EU placed on aid to Ukraine.
“So you’re saying — this is groundbreaking — so you’re saying that someone other than …” Meadows said.
“I walked right into that one,” Sondland said.
“… Other than Donald Trump is concerned with corruption, and they might withhold foreign aid based on that. Is that correct, Ambassador? I can tell by your smile it’s a yes, is that correct. Are we correct?”
“This is like ‘My Cousin Vinny,’” Sondland said.
“Yeah, there are two positive track tire marks here, looks like,” Meadows said, referencing the film’s climax.
Fewer members in general attended the interview for Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. During that interview, Meadows pushed for an expanded ability for members themselves to ask questions, even as only five members from each party actually attended the meeting.
At the Sondland deposition, Democrats outnumbered Republicans more than 2-to-1. And the various wings of the Democratic Party have been better represented, from liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York to Rep. Susan Wild, who represents a swing district in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.
While Trump’s allies are likely to continue their robust defense of the president, the transcripts give little hint how other House GOP members will proceed during impeachment hearings open to the public.
During acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire’s September testimony before the House Intelligence panel — the only open hearing related to the impeachment inquiry held so far — Ohio Republican Michael R. Turner offered a slight critique of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, calling it “not OK”.
Other Republicans like Elise Stefanik of New York seem prepared to spar with Democrats when the cameras are on. During an appearance on “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday morning, Stefanik said she wants the GOP to call House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff as their side’s first witness to unearth whether the California Democrat coordinated with the White House whistleblower.
A House resolution that governs the impeachment inquiry proceedings allows Schiff to block the GOP from calling witnesses.