More than two dozen House Republicans, led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, delayed a deposition hearing in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's conduct regarding Ukraine.
Gaetz and the group marched into the secure facility at Capitol Hill, where House Democrats were scheduled to interview Pentagon official Laura Cooper, a witness in the probe. Cooper helps oversee U.S. policy regarding Ukraine at the Defense Department. Lawmakers had expected to ask her about the Trump administration's decision to withhold military aid from the former Soviet nation.
Cooper's testimony began Wednesday afternoon following a delay of about five hours, according to an NBC News reporter.
The Republican protesters decried the impeachment process as a "sham" and lambasted House Democrats for conducting the process behind closed doors. Only members of the committees conducting the hearing were allowed in the room.
"Behind those doors they intend to overturn the results of an American presidential election. We want to know what's going on," Gaetz said at a news conference shortly before entering the hearing.
"So far, Adam Schiff's impeachment inquiry has been marked by secret interviews, selective hearings … and lies about contacts with a whistleblower," he added, referring to Schiff of California, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Schiff delayed the hearing and consulted with the House's sergeant-at-arms on removing the protesters, according to various reports.
Schiff's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office.
"Clearly, the president felt devastated by [Acting Ukrainian ambassador Bill Taylor's] testimony yesterday and they've been unsuccessful in stopping witnesses from cooperating," Schiff told reporters in the hallway outside the SCIF.
"The president has enlisted allies on the Hill to see what they can do to stop the witnesses, but we will go forward with the testimony and make sure the facts come to light."
Gaetz's protest violated House rules on entering a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility during a classified hearing. Only members of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees were permitted to attend the proceedings.
The protestors reportedly entered the SCIF with electronics including cellphones, which are strictly prohibited inside.
Gaetz's protest comes on the heels of Trump's complaints that Republicans in Congress were not doing enough to protect him after bombshell testimony from key players at the center of the Ukraine scandal engulfing the Trump administration.
Republicans have targeted the process in an effort to derail the inquiry before it gathers steam. On Monday, the House tabled a motion to censure Schiff for his conduct during a hearing in late September.
Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, who sponsored the failed resolution, participated in Wednesday's protest.