It's completely within the rules for Democrats on the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry to hold hearings behind closed doors.
Earlier this month, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy demanded inquiry proceedings be stopped unless the minority got the power to subpoena witnesses. On Wednesday, Minority Whip Steve Scalise, and others even likened the secure, closed-door investigation into sensitive foreign policy matters to something out of the Soviet Union. That same day, a group of angry House Republicans barged into the secure facility and effectively halted hearings for several hours, complaining about transparency.
But if they find the process unfair, they have only themselves to blame. The House rules that govern this process were adopted in 2015, by the then-Republican majority. And the same Republican leaders leading this criticism helped establish those majority-centric rules at that time.
McCarthy wrote an letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Oct. 3, complaining that without giving the minority House Republicans equal power, Democrats would be creating "a process completely devoid of any merit or legitimacy."
But while minority-party members once had significant say in who was subpoenaed, a major 2015 rule change rammed through by the Republican majority stripped them of this power. The majority leader at that time was McCarthy himself.
On Wednesday, Scalise took part in a press conference organized by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to demand that the secure hearings be more "transparent."
"Maybe in the Soviet Union this kind of thing is commonplace," he charged. "This shouldn't be happening in the United States of America, where they're trying to impeach a president in secret, behind closed doors."
Obviously any actual impeachment vote would be done in public, should the majority decide to charge him with "high crimes and misdemeanors." Under the Constitution, that would trigger a trial in the GOP-controlled Senate, where a two-thirds super-majority would be required to remove Trump from office.
But the House rules, which McCarthy and Scalise helped enact, also allow this fact-finding portion of the impeachment inquiry to be done in private, by the relevant committees. Indeed many of the House Republicans protesting the lack of "transparency" of the secure hearings are allowed to attend them and have been participating.
On Thursday, Fox News' senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano surprised his colleagues by noting that he had actually read the House rules and discovered that the Democrats were following them.
"As frustrating as it may be to have these hearings going on behind closed doors, the hearings over which Congressman [Adam] Schiff [D-CA] is presiding, they are consistent with the rules," he noted.
Andrew Napolitano: "As frustrating as it may be to have these hearings going on behind closed doors ... they are consistent with the rules. ... When were the rules written last? In January of 2015. And who signed them? John Boehner. And who enacted them? A Republican majority." pic.twitter.com/Zl10ZNugf4
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) October 24, 2019
"When were the rules written last? In January of 2015. And who signed them? [Then Speaker] John Boehner. And who enacted them? A Republican majority," Napolitano noted.
He added, "The rules say this level of inquiry, this initial level of inquiry can be done in secret."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.