President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress are desperately clinging to the argument that the impeachment process is unfair while increasingly damaging information continues to emerge regarding Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into announcing a sham investigation into his political rivals.
The desire to change the narrative appeared to reach a boiling point on Wednesday, when several House Republicans stormed an impeachment hearing held in a secure room for handling classified information -- breaking rules in the process -- even though a quarter of them were already allowed to attend as members of the committees involved. Fox News has also latched onto this bad-faith argument about the impeachment process as other network defenses continue to be destroyed by emerging facts.
Here are the right-wing complaints about the impeachment process, and what they’re getting wrong.
Claim: Democrats are conducting impeachment proceedings in private because they’re hiding something.
The inquiry phase of impeachment proceedings is conducted by the House, which has broad authority over how to conduct it. While frustrating to Republicans and their allies, it is within the House majority’s right to hold impeachment hearings in private, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) -- who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- has explained his reasoning for this:
“It is of paramount importance to ensure that witnesses cannot coordinate their testimony with one another to match their description of events, or potentially conceal the truth,” Schiff wrote in a letter to his House colleagues last week. Schiff emphasized that public transcripts of these depositions would be released in the future, and also anticipated that testimony would ultimately be public as well.
“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,” he said.
Republicans in the past have appeared to agree to this viewpoint -- the infamous Benghazi hearings included hours of closed-door testimonies, which Republicans explained was necessary to ensure “more efficient and effective” interviews. Democrats have also noted that the impeachment inquiries of former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton both included closed-door testimonies. Additionally, The Washington Post reported that House Democrats are preparing to move toward a public impeachment inquiry by mid-November after they complete the initial stage of the investigation.
Claim: Democrats are denying Trump due process.
Another common right-wing argument is that Trump is not being allowed “due process” by the Democrats. This is also inaccurate, as the Democrats are currently conducting a grand jury-like process in the House. The “due process” part of impeachment comes during the impeachment trials in the Senate.
Claim: Republicans are being kept out of hearings.
Republicans and their allies in the media are also complaining that certain members of Congress are not allowed to sit in on hearings, pointing to this supposed secrecy as a sign of Democrats’ nefarious intent. In reality, Republicans on the committees that are holding the depositions -- House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight -- are allowed to sit in on depositions and ask questions. Representatives who are not members of the relevant committees are not allowed to sit in on depositions, per House rules. While Republicans and many in right-wing media complain that closed-door hearings allow Democrats to selectively leak and spin, few of these complaints touch on the fact that Republicans are in the room receiving the same information.
Claim: The impeachment inquiry is illegitimate until the House holds a vote on it.
Trump and right-wing media figures have also been claiming that the inquiry is illegitimate until the House holds a formal vote the begin impeachment, and therefore White House officials are not obligated to comply with subpoenas related to the investigation. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has argued that House rules don't require a vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry; though a House vote triggered an impeachment inquiry during the Clinton and Nixon impeachments, House rules have changed since then to give the House majority greater unilateral power -- rule changes that were enacted by the previous Republican House majority.
Right-wing media still cling to the argument that the process is unfair.
Fox News host Sean Hannity laid into the Democrats’ “top-secret … Soviet-style impeachment coup attempt” that is “an unprecedented, unconstitutional attempt to nullify the will of the American people.” He added that “the whole process is more corrupt, lacking all due process, all constitutionality and constitutional protections.” Hannity concluded that “all the president is really guilty of is faithfully executing the laws of this land and fulfilling his constitutional duties.”
Fox & Friends co-hosts Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, and guest co-host Ed Henry cheered Republicans’ opposition to the inquiry, repeating arguments from Republican leaders that this is a “Soviet-style process” and impeachment is being done in “secret.”
On Outnumbered Overtime, Fox News contributor Ari Fleischer said that Democrats are holding a “dirty impeachment because it’s all being done in secret.” He added that “you cannot go after Donald Trump for breaking the norms if you break them yourself.”
On The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham described “the coordinated effort by a cabal of diplomatic and intel bureaucrats to upend the presidency of Donald Trump.” Ingraham claimed that “the closed-door shuffle allows Democrats to preset the theme of each witness, spin the secret testimony, cherry-pick, then leak the phrases most favorable to their impeachment narrative.”
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs heaped praise on House Republicans who interrupted Wednesday’s deposition, calling it “an honest-to-goodness stunt,” saying, “God bless them for actually doing something,” and emphasizing that he is “so impressed.”
One America News Network’s Jack Posobiec cheered “the finesse” of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who led House Republicans into the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), because “he got everyone on both sides talking about the fact Adam Schiff is holding these hearings behind closed doors in a SCIF.”
On his radio show, Fox News host Mark Levin interviewed Gaetz to smear the Democrats’ process and discredit the investigation as a “kangaroo court underground in the basement of the Capitol.”
On Outnumbered, Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe defended Trump’s description of impeachment as a “lynching,” conceding that though it may not have been the best word choice, he was correct that “objectively,” it is a “terribly unfair process” because Democrats are “holding this impeachment inquiry in secret.”
Conservative commentator Ryan Fournier pointed to the fact that Schiff “literally left the room” when Gaetz and other Republicans were disrupting the deposition, asking, “WHAT IS HE HIDING!”
Fox News correspondent-at-large Geraldo Rivera tweeted: “If it was up to me the uprising yesterday outside the closed door #ImpeachmentInquiry would continue unless and until Democrats open their #KangarooCourt.”
Fox News contributor Charles Hurt praised Republicans disrupting a legitimate deposition because “it draws attention to the fact that this is entirely unprecedented, the way Democrats are running this process.”
Conservative commentator Bill Mitchell said that “there is NO impeachment inquiry” because “that would require a vote of the full House.” He concluded that “this is taxpayer funded oppo research, nothing more.”