It must be stressful to be locked away in a windowless subterranean room for hours on end, thinking ceaselessly about impeachment — and hopefully, Donald Trump will soon experience those stresses firsthand.
In the meantime, however, it is the members of the House Intelligence Committee who must endure those types of conditions as they sit through the Democrat-run impeachment hearings in the basement of the Capitol Building behind the closed doors of a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF).
With tensions running high between the Democrats — who are determined to learn the truth about Donald Trump’s scheme to extort the Ukranian government for helpful dirt to weaponize against former Vice President Joe Biden — and the Republicans — who are equally trying every trick in their playbook to impede the truth from being revealed — it comes no surprise that the hearing erupted into a shouting match at one point during today’s hearing.
The argument grew out of the Democrats’ accusations that Republicans were attempting to circumvent the legal protections afforded to government whistleblowers such as the person who brought Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to their attention and trying to reveal that person’s identity to the world, exposing them to the risk of retaliation that the whistleblower protection laws were meant to avoid.
The heated confrontation began when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff raised an objection to the Republicans’ questioning of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council official who defied the Trump administration’s decision to ignore congressional subpoenas to give a first-hand account of the call which he was listening to as it took place.
Schiff charged that the GOP questioners were doing everything they could to elicit the name of the whistleblower from their line of inquiry during Vindman’s deposition by a process of elimination by running through a list of names of people he informed about his concerns over what he heard on the call.
Republicans angrily insisted that they were merely asking innocent questions about whom Vindman might have spoken to about the call and pinky swore that they weren’t trying to out the whistleblower whom Donald Trump has so demonized as a phony partisan operative seeding hearsay false accusations against him — never mind the fact that all that the whistleblower reported has subsequently been confirmed by both the transcript of the president’s call and the ensuing testimony in Congress.
Eventually, Schiff’s allegations about the motives behind the Republican questions led to a testy verbal confrontation between Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Mark Meadows (R-NC) with other members of both parties joining the fray.
The hostility grew so heated that one could hardly fault the congressional staff for wondering whether the situation would devolve into the type of legislative fistfights that have known to take place on the floors of overseas legislatures in countries such as Turkey and Taiwan.
According to an account of the closed-door session from CNN — which cited five sources from both parties as the witnesses to the events — here is a short digest of the partisan dispute:
“What the Republicans are trying to do in there, very clearly in their questioning, is try to front-door or backdoor Lt. Col. Vindman into revealing who the whistleblower is, even though in his testimony, he said he didn’t know,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat. “They are trying to, through the back door and through process of elimination by their questions, they are attempting to get him to reveal that, and they have been unsuccessful.”“How can we out someone when we don’t know he is,” Rep. Meadows explained to reporters this afternoon.
Meadows described the Democrats’ accusations that Republicans are trying to out the whistleblower as “not accurate.”
“I’ve not been on any fishing expedition,” he said. “I only ask questions we know the answer to.”
“Two sources described a pattern of GOP questioning — over the course of several of the depositions — that appeared designed to try to identify the whistleblower through the course of asking witnesses and putting into the deposition record the names of various government officials involved that may fit the professional description that has been made public of the individual,” CNN reported.
“I think we would like to know — with whistleblower protections in mind — we would like to hear from the whistleblower and we would also like to know who the whistleblower talked to,” the Republican legislator said. “We got one guy who is trying to bring down the President of the United States and we cannot even hear from that person.”
Democrats have taken the position that the identity of the whistleblower is not only protected by law but that it is simply irrelevant at this point given the testimony of witnesses with direct rather than second-hand knowledge of the events in question and the evidence contained in the transcript of the call between the two presidents with reality show backgrounds.
With the continuance of the Trump presidency at stake, it’s no wonder that tensions in the SCIF have risen to such explosive levels.
Imagine what it will be like once the hearings move to the public sphere and the cameras in the room offer members of both parties the opportunity to grandstand for the benefit of the public and the GOP’s audience of one person in the Oval Office.
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Original reporting by Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox, and Phil Mattingly at CNN.
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.