State Politics

Idaho’s congressmen remain focused on ‘secrecy’ of impeachment process, supporting Trump

Idaho’s all-GOP congressional delegation remains steadfast in its support of the Republican Party and President Donald J. Trump.

With the U.S. House impeachment inquiry gaining momentum, last week Idaho’s delegation began putting its name behind efforts to impugn the impeachment process. However, as with many of their GOP counterparts, the officials are not publicly defending the president.

Idaho’s two U.S. senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are co-sponsoring Senate Resolution 378, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and co-sponsored by all but nine of the 53 GOP senators.

The resolution calls on the House to hold a vote to initiate a formal impeachment inquiry and argues that the House is “denying President Trump basic fairness and due process accorded every American.”

The non-binding resolution, largely ceremonial, solely focuses on the impeachment process, not the content of or reasons for it.

The House has not introduced a comparable resolution, but it does have House Resolution 630, calling for the condemnation and censure of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, R-California, due to his characterization of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Idaho Congressmen Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher are co-sponsors of this resolution, which is supported by 185 of the House’s 197 Republican members.

The House on Oct. 21 blocked a vote on the resolution in a 218-185 vote.

U.S. Constitution sets impeachment process

The U.S. Constitution establishes a two-step process for the House and Senate to remove an official from office. The House has the power to impeach, or formally charge, a federal officer with wrongdoing. If the House impeaches an officer, the Senate conducts a trial to hear the charges and decide whether the officer should be removed from office. Two-thirds of the Senate chamber, 67 votes, are needed to convict an officer and remove him or her from office.

For the fourth time ever in American history, an impeachment inquiry into a president is underway.

Three House committees—Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight—are leading the inquiry. Democratic and Republican members of the committees conducting the inquiry can attend the closed-door interviews and ask questions.

Closed-door interviews have been a routine part of congressional investigations under both parties in the past. Additionally, as with grand jury proceedings, the target of the investigation is not part of the procedure.

Last week, Schiff sent a letter to House colleagues stating he would eventually make the testimony transcripts available.

“As the investigation proceeds, and at a time that it will not jeopardize investigative equities, we will make the interview transcripts public, subject to any necessary redactions for classified or sensitive information,” Schiff stated, according to a report from The Hill.

Additionally, at some point the committee will release its findings and recommendations and the full House will vote on whether to impeach.

But on Oct. 23, about three dozen House Republicans, including Fulcher, violated security protocols and went into a secure hearing room — a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF — where a closed-door deposition with a Defense Department official was taking place as part of the House impeachment inquiry.

Fulcher told the Statesman that he was not there to protest the House holding impeachment hearings, but he was “protesting the secrecy of the hearings.”

“We are going to be asked to vote on impeachment,” he said. “I think at a minimum we need to be able see and have access to the testimony and information that leads up to it. Right now that is simply not happening. There is no mechanism to get access to information before we are supposed to vote. That is my biggest concern.”

Of the 41 House Republicans who were said to be participating in the event, 13 serve on the committees conducting the inquiry, meaning they already can go to the closed-door interviews and ask questions. Fulcher does not serve on any of those committees.

A judge on Friday ordered the Justice Department to turn over secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to the House. House members want it for the impeachment inquiry against Trump, the Associated Press reported, saying the ruling also affirmed the legality of the impeachment inquiry itself.

Fulcher joins GOP House members in CNN letter

Fulcher also joined eight other GOP House members in sending a letter to CNN President Jeff Zucker lambasting him for refusing to air two Trump campaign ads.

CNN said it would not air the ads because, in part, they contain unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against former vice president Joe Biden, according to an Oct. 3 Washington Post report.

In a statement, CNN said that “in addition to disparaging CNN and its journalists, the ad makes assertions that have been proven demonstrably false by various news outlets, including CNN,” The Washington Post reported.

In the Oct. 21 letter to CNN, Fulcher and his colleagues write, “As a press organization utilizing the freedom of the press guaranteed to you in the First Amendment, it is particularly disheartening to see you suppressing the free speech of federal political candidates, potentially in violation of federal law and Supreme Court precedent.”

“As your news organization seems to have lost all sense of objectivity, spinning itself into oblivion to support left-leaning candidates and participating in distortions against conservative candidates, you have still operated within the boundaries of the First Amendment,” the letter continues.

“Your decision, however, to disallow advertising from the sitting President of the United States, a man duly elected to that post despite your best efforts, is a step that falls beyond your First Amendment protections, and one that we believe is in violation of the law and the Constitution.”

The letter is signed by Fulcher and South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan, who spearheaded the letter. It is also signed by seven other Republicans: Alabama Rep. Bradley Byrne, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, Florida Rep. Greg Steube, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman and Texas Reps. Louie Gohmert and Randy Weber.

Risch, Simpson and Fulcher are seeking re-election to their respective seats in 2020. Crapo’s seat is up for election in 2022.

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Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.