Graham says Trump needs better defense team: Impeachment update

Steven T. Dennis

Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, is scheduled to testify during Wednesday’s closed hearing in the House impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump, although the hearing was delayed by a protest led by Republican lawmakers.

Here are the latest developments:

Cooper Testimony Starts After GOP Disruption (3:36 p.m.)

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper arrives for a closed door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Cooper has begun her private deposition before three House committees, according to California Representative Harley Rouda, a Democrat.

The testimony was delayed after Republican representatives occupied the secure hearing room to demand that Democrats allow even members who don’t sit on the Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees to participate in the closed hearing.

Graham Says Trump Needs Better Defense Team (3:02 p.m.)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., takes questions from reporters in this Sept. 25, 2019, file photo. Graham said the White House needs to do a better job in impeachment messaging because even he has trouble understanding Trump’s defense.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest allies, said the White House needs to do a better job in impeachment messaging because even he has trouble understanding Trump’s defense.

“Basically, he should have a team that speaks about this that’s trained in the law,” Graham said. “Just stick with the message that the president did nothing wrong here.”

Graham also said Trump shouldn’t “forget about governing,” citing the example of former President Bill Clinton who kept working with Congress on legislation while he was being investigated as part of an impeachment process.

Graham said Republican senators are going to be pushing back at what they see as an unfair process in the House.

“You’re selectively creating a narrative,” Graham said of the House committee hearings that have been held behind closed doors.

Trump Backed GOP Plan to Protest Inquiry (1:37 p.m.)

Trump had advance knowledge and supported a protest by Republicans who told him they planned to barge into a secure hearing room on Capitol Hill where Democrats are holding impeachment testimonies, according to four people familiar with the matter.Trump on Tuesday met with about 30 House Republicans at the White House to talk about the situation in Syria and the impeachment inquiry. During a nearly two-hour meeting, which focused mostly on the impeachment inquiry, lawmakers shared their plans to storm into the secure room, the people said. Trump supported the action, saying he wanted the transcripts released because they will exonerate him, the people said.

About two dozen GOP House members occupied the secure hearing room early Wednesday, delaying a scheduled deposition. – Saleha Mohsin, Jennifer Jacobs and Josh Wingrove

Open Hearings May Start Soon, Democrats Say (1:03 p.m.)

Democratic House members who are part of the impeachment investigation predicted Wednesday that public hearings will soon be scheduled after another week or two of closed-door witness statements.

“A week or two of depositions, and then hearings,” said Representative Jackie Speier of California, a member of the Intelligence and Oversight and Reform committees, two of the three panels now holding closed-door witness questioning.

Another Democrat on the Oversight panel, Lacy Clay of Missouri, said he believes that is correct. He and Speier said they haven’t been given any specific hearing dates from Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff or other panel leaders. Clay said the investigation may be wrapped up near Thanksgiving.

Clay said the committees have gathered “quite a bit of evidence,” including the still-unidentified whistleblower’s complaint, the rough memorandum of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine’s president, and Tuesday’s testimony from acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor.

“It makes the case that he abused his power,” said Clay.

Clay said some witnesses who’ve already been interviewed may need to be called back, specifically pointing to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Some of Sondland’s testimony about his knowledge of discussions with Ukrainian officials conflicted with what Taylor told the committees on Tuesday.

A Schiff spokesman wasn’t immediately available to comment. – Billy House

Republican Protesters Delay Hearing (11:29 a.m.)

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., speaks at a news conference in front of House Republicans after Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper arrived for a closed door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

A protest by a group of Republican lawmakers temporarily put on hold the impeachment hearing testimony of a Pentagon official who oversaw military assistance to Ukraine.

About two dozen GOP House members, who are objecting to the closed-door hearings led by Democrats, barged into the secure hearing room, some of them “shouting, screaming” at the “injustice being done to the president,” said Democratic Representative Gerald Connolly, a member of the Oversight panel.

“It’s like a protest movement,” said Lacy Clay of Missouri, a Democrat on the Oversight Committee, who likened the protest to a sit-in and said the GOP members remained inside.

Only members of the three House committees – Democrats and Republicans – are allowed in the “sensitive compartmented information facility,” known as a SCIF. Access is limited to people with security clearances to discuss classified material that isn’t open to public view.

“We kept demanding they let us in, and they said no,” said Representative Debbie Lesko, an Arizona Republican.

Republicans have repeatedly complained that the closed-door hearings are unfair to Trump. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff has said that following the initial investigation stage, he plans to call some of the witnesses back for public hearings.

Connolly said the Republicans entered the secure area and walked into the room where a Pentagon official, Laura Cooper, was scheduled to testify. The GOP members were carrying electronic devices, which are barred from the secure area, he said.

“That SCIF is used by Congress for a lot of highly classified purposes. To compromise that to make a point is deeply troubling,” said Connolly. “They literally stormed the door when it was open.”

Connolly said GOP Representatives Louie Gohmert of Texas and Bradley Byrne of Alabama were among those who were shouting while in the hearing room.

“Things are at a standstill,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight panel. – Billy House

Republicans Stage Protest at Hearing Room ( 10:30 a.m.)

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks to members of the media after Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper arrived for a closed door meeting.

About two dozen Republican lawmakers staged a protest outside the room where three House committees are hearing testimony in the impeachment inquiry over what they said was a lack of transparency by Democrats leading the investigation.Florida Representative Matt Gaetz accused the Democrats of orchestrating “secret interviews” and “selective leaks” about the testimony of current and former Trump administration officials. He repeatedly called it a ”Soviet style” closed process to impeach an American president.

The Republicans, most of whom aren’t members of the three committees conducting the hearings, said they’ve been denied access to the room and to transcripts of testimony. They walked into the hearing room, but Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff got up and left, said GOP Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama.Schiff, of California, and other Democrats conducting the inquiry have said they are in an evidence-gathering phase of the impeachment inquiry, and that public hearings will eventually be held. – Billy House

Pentagon’s Cooper to Testify on Ukraine Aid (9:22 a.m.)

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper arrives for a closed door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

A Pentagon official who held a key role in pressing for military aid to Ukraine arrived Wednesday for her closed door testimony before the House committees leading the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump.

Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, is to be asked by congressional investigators about her knowledge of the withholding of nearly $400 million in U.S. security assistance at a time Trump was urging Ukraine officials to investigate his political rivals.

Cooper represents the first Pentagon official to testify in the ongoing probe being led by the House Intelligence, Oversight and reform and Foreign Affairs committees.

She did not answer questions from reporters.

Congress had allotted $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, in part to help it defend itself against Russia. That aid, to be joined by $141 million from the State Department, has become the focus of whether Trump was using it as leverage to get Ukraine officials to conduct the investigations he wanted.

Separately, the Pentagon Inspector General continues to review a Sept. 25 request from seven Democrat senators to launch an inquiry into the aid hold-up.– Billy House

Poll Finds 55% of Americans Support Inquiry (7:03 a.m.)

American voters approve of the U.S. House impeachment probe by the biggest margin yet in a new Quinnipiac University poll that has 55% of those surveyed backing the inquiry and 43% disapproving.

That’s up from 51% of voters surveyed last week. The poll’s release Wednesday comes a day after damaging testimony from the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, William Taylor, who told House panels that senior diplomat Gordon Sondland told him in early September that Trump tied Ukraine aid directly to probing 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden and the 2016 election.

The polling data doesn’t reflect voter views on Taylor’s testimony since the survey ended Oct. 21.

Almost half, or 48%, of respondents said Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 46% disagreed. That’s a flip from the last Quinnipiac survey in which 46%t backed impeachment and 48% were opposed.

The national poll, conducted Oct. 17-20, surveyed 1,587 self-identified registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.1 percentage points. – Kathleen Miller

Key Events

Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, testified Tuesday that Sondland, in discussing the president’s demand, said Trump is a businessman. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check,” Taylor said, describing Sondland’s words.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham denounced Taylor’s testimony as “just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically motivated, closed door, secretive hearings.”

With assistance from Billy House, Saleha Mohsin, Jennifer Jacobs and Josh Wingrove.