On the first day of the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, his White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, perpetuated a running falsehood, claiming House Republicans were barred from attending and participating in the 17 witness depositions held in a secure hearing room known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). A SCIF is a secure room in the U.S. Capitol where classified and sensitive material can be presented and discussed with added protection against eavesdropping. In his opening arguments, Cipollone falsely said, “Not even Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF” during the House impeachment investigation.
Cipollone’s claim has been roundly fact checked and shown to be false by Politifact, FactCheck.org, CNN, and more. These depositions were part of the initial investigation conducted by the House Oversight, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence Committees. All 100 members—both Republican and Democratic—of these committees were invited to participate in these interviews.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund used publicly available information to calculate Republican attendance at the 17 witness depositions held in the U.S. House of Representatives. Of the 48 Republican members who are members of the above committees and thus were invited to attend and participate, 36 attended at least one of the depositions. On average, these Republican committee members attended roughly 3 of these depositions each.
Despite that fact, Republican members of Congress, including committee leaders, repeatedly used the false talking point during the House proceedings. Top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), accused Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) of “running an impeachment process behind closed doors, in the basement of the Capitol, that no one in America gets to see.” Jordan got to see 15 of the 17 depositions. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the House Intelligence Committee ranking member, called the deposition “a closed-door audition process in a cult-like atmosphere in the basement of the Capitol, where the Democrats conducted secret depositions.” However, Nunes was there for 8 of the 17 depositions. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) accused Schiff of running a “secret kangaroo court” in which “not ONE member from Arizona is allowed to enter Schiff’s secret room.” Gosar skipped all of the hearings he was invited to attend, and instead stormed the SCIF as part of a publicity stunt.
On October 23, that very stunt drew expansive media attention. A group of more than 40 House members stormed the SCIF—some carrying electronic devices, which are banned by rule—to protest the make-believe “ban” of Republicans from the room. Ironically, 13 of the lawmakers who protested are members of the committees responsible for the investigation and thus were eligible to participate. Two of these 13 were eligible to attend the 17 depositions yet failed to show up for a single one of them. In addition to Gosar, Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) failed to attend a single deposition after taking part in the protest.
While the assigned committee Republicans had ample opportunity to attend and ask questions of key witnesses, overall attendance was poor. Of the 48 Republicans who had access, zero attended all of the depositions.
The vast majority, or 67 percent (32 of the 48), attended three or less, and 85 percent (41 of the 48) attended less than half of the depositions. A significant number of committee members allowed to attend the depositions—12 in total—failed to attend a single session:
- Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)
- Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)
- Rep. Gregory “Greg” Pence (R-IN)
- Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI)
- Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC)
- Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)
- Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR)
- Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL)
- Rep. James Comer (R-KY)
- Rep. Mark Green (R-TN)
- Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ)
- Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)
Other House members charged with investigating the impeachment inquiry continue to correct the record. It is clear that Cipollone’s claim is 100 percent false. Furthermore, the poor attendance of House Republicans at these depositions is another example of their dereliction of their constitutional duty to oversee the executive branch.
You can find a full account of which Republicans had access to the depositions; the number of depositions they chose to attend; who among them were part of the SCIF protest; as well as individual deposition attendance here.
Will Ragland is the research director at the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s War Room. Ryan Koronowski contributed to this research.