A Republican congressman from West Virginia who took part in a Wednesday protest of an ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump is defending his actions. Rep. Alex Mooney was one of dozens of Republican lawmakers who made their way into a secure room where a scheduled deposition was delayed.
Some congressional Democrats say the protest might have been a violation of national security and are calling on the House’s Sergeant of Arms to take action against those who made their way into the secure area.
Mooney drew attention Wednesday when he tweeted audio of a dispatch he made from inside a sensitive compartmented information facility -- known as a SCIF -- where Pentagon official Laura Cooper had been scheduled to provide a deposition. Those proceedings were delayed for hours.
“I represent over 600,000 people in West Virginia who are not given a right to know what’s even being said in these hearings. It is a brazenly attempt for no reason to impeach the president of the United States,” Mooney said in the audio uploaded to Twitter. “I’m proud that over 30 members of Congress, including our whip, Steve Scalise, walked into that room and demanded transparency and justice for our president.”
On that recording, he said he made a call on a secure phone from inside the SCIF.
But questions arose about whether some Republicans, including Mooney, had brought their cellphones into the SCIF. Mooney also tweeted video of himself walking down a corridor and toward the entrance of the secure room as the protest was beginning.
In a Thursday phone interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Mooney outlined his involvement in the protest, defended his actions and criticized Democrats for limiting access to the impeachment inquiry depositions.
“I think what you saw -- both from other media sources and from my own cell phone -- was me walking into the hallway area that you have to go through first. In that hallway area, they tell you to turn your cellphones off,” Mooney said of the video he took of himself. “And then you have to go through another door to actually be in the SCIF area. So what you saw was actually not the SCIF area. And that's been misreported by some outlets. But once I got in there, they said, ‘Turn the phones off.’ So I turned it off.”
“Once we got in there, they took our phones away from us,” he added.
Mooney acknowledged that Republicans who sit on three panels -- the House’s Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees -- are allowed to take part in the hearings. But, he said he is unaware of how much time members of the minority are given to ask questions or what information has been gathered.
“I know the Republicans on the committees are allowed in the room. That much I know. I don't know how the questioning goes,” he said.
Mooney and other Republicans have argued that conducting the depositions behind closed doors and excluding other members of Congress is not an acceptable method for the proceedings.
“Committee hearings aren't supposed to be done in secret. This is a basic thing of government and I don't care where you stand on the issues -- Republican or Democrat, or if you like Trump or you don't like Trump. Committee hearings are not supposed to be done in secret, particularly impeachment inquiries,” he said.
The U.S. Constitution does not specify how impeachment inquiry proceedings should take place -- only that the House “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and the Senate would hold a trial.
Following the Republican protest, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., sent a letter to the chamber’s sergeant at arms, calling Wednesday’s events an “unprecedented breach of security.” Thompson called for action to be taken against those who took part in the breach of the SCIF.
“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 wrote.
Mooney fired back at Thompson’s letter, saying that congressional Democrats should be investigated for the way in which the depositions have been held.
“I feel that's the pot calling the kettle black. There is no way that we are violating any rules,” he said. “They are the ones violating the rules by closing these hearings. If there's an ethics investigation of any kind, it should be against the people closing these hearings and declaring that it’s confidential when it’s not. This is a kangaroo court, Soviet-style hearings. I'm not going to be intimidated by these people. This is that that is absolutely nothing that I'm concerned about at all.”
Mooney also noted that he met with President Trump earlier this week, along with a group of other Republicans. He also said the idea to hold a protest of the closed-door depositions was his own.
“I actually said over a week ago at one of our Republican meetings that we should go into those hearings -- and it was very well received among Republicans,” Mooney said. “I'd like to say that was my idea to go into those hearings. Although, it was Congressman Matt Gaetz, who called the press conference and Steve Scalise, our whip, who wasn't at the meeting I was at, anyway, with the president -- who led this effort.”
Mooney said he will continue to push for more open proceedings and for minority Republicans to be allowed to call witnesses in the depositions.
A spokesman for Rep. Carol Miller, of West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District and who sits on the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement that Miller has been part of the group allowed in the SCIF depositions. She outlined Miller’s involvement in Wednesday’s activities on Capitol Hill.
“Congresswoman Miller participated in this morning’s press conference to oppose the lack of transparency and due process in Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff’s closed-door impeachment proceedings, which are being hidden from a majority of her colleagues, and far out of sight of the American people,” the spokesperson said in an email to West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “Congresswoman Miller does not bring her electronic devices into the SCIF.”
Miller’s spokesman did not respond to West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s request for an interview.
A spokesperson for Rep. David McKinley of the state’s 1st Congressional District said McKinley did not take part in the protest.