For weeks, Democrats have been holding secretive impeachment proceedings behind closed doors, out of sight of the American people.
Chairman Adam Schiff of the House Select Committee on Intelligence has been interviewing witnesses in a restricted area deep beneath the Capitol in a small room called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIF.
The SCIF is specifically designed for classified briefings and other extremely sensitive committee business, not for non-classified witness interviews.
It shouldn’t be this way.
In the Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings, the House held a formal vote to begin. In addition to giving the inquiry legitimacy, the vote outlined the rights not only of the minority but of the accused.
In the Nixon and Clinton impeachment hearings, the respective minority parties were allowed to call witnesses, issue subpoenas, and access hearing information. Additionally, each president and their teams were allowed to participate to ensure fairness and due process.
How can someone defend themselves – in this proceeding or in the mind of the public – if they do not know what those accusing them are even saying?
Nancy Pelosi and Schiff’s reasoning for enacting this scheme is obvious. By locking down impeachment proceedings, Democrats control what information the public receives.
Open hearings have been disastrous for Democrats. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony was an embarrassment. Sometimes the truth hurts!
But by choosing to interview witnesses in a classified room – even though they admit the information is not secret in nature – Democrats hold all the cards.
The public receives only whatever Democrats leak to their media allies. Lies, misinformation, and cherry-picked snippets are all the public – even most members of Congress like myself – can access.
Efforts to impeach a duly-elected president behind closed doors require all Americans to get off the sidelines to end this scheme.
Republicans want to get the truth out. Americans deserve it.
I’ve had enough, and I took action.
Last week, a group of Republicans led by my colleague Matt Gaetz held a press conference outside the entrance to the SCIF to bring attention to the Democrats’ scheme to hide the truth.
After the press conference, leaving the media behind, Republicans entered the restricted area outside the hearing.
Once inside, a staff member informed me I was unable to enter the hearing but would not say why or what rule prohibited me and the Members of Congress with me from entering.
So I led my colleagues in.
Once inside, we quietly and orderly prepared to observe the proceedings. Nonetheless, Democrats were dumbfounded.
Instead of continuing, Schiff shut down the proceeding. Despite me asking him to stay, he walked out of the room!
It is noteworthy how the mainstream media reported our actions.
Without being inside, the media was given free rein to report whatever they wanted with no accountability.
CNN falsely reported I yelled in the face of Adam Schiff. Other fake news outlets mistakenly claimed we refused to turn over our phones, which is not true. I turned over my phone to staff of the Intelligence Committee.
Could there be a better example of why we need to have open impeachment hearings in the public?
Our actions are working. Within hours, after public outcry, Democrats announced a tentative plan to open hearings in several weeks.
However, a vague promise for future transparency isn’t good enough. The public narrative is continuing to be misshaped through leaks and lies.
We must end secret proceedings now. Democrats cannot continue withholding non-classified information from members of Congress and the public.
The American people should be demanding open hearings. You can bet I’ll keep fighting in Washington for an open, fair process so the American people can have the truth. This is too important to sit on the sidelines.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.