U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., called House impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump a sham process taking place behind closed doors.
In an interview with Lee Montana Newspapers, Gianforte said he read the transcript of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and found nothing wrong with the conversation. The call is one of the first pieces of evidence in the impeachment against Trump who is accused of withholding military assistance until Ukraine agreed to dig up dirt on a 2020 Democratic candidate for president, former Vice President Joe Biden.
House Republicans this week pivoted to questioning the fairness and transparency of the impeachment proceedings conducted by the Democratic majority. Gianforte did, as well.
“I read the transcript. I don’t think there’s anything there,” Gianforte said. “The House has the constitutional authority to impeach a president. The Republican Party is not in charge; Democrats are. If they want to impeach the president, they should follow the process that’s been pursued in the last few cases where impeachment has been pursued and that is an open vote. Vote to do it. I honestly think the Democrats don’t have the votes. But they’re proceeding anyway without a vote, but you have to conduct the hearing in the open and the accused should be able to defend themselves.”
The House Intelligence Committee has been interviewing witnesses in meetings not open to the public. The cacophony about the interviews not being public was met Wednesday with a letter from Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., essentially saying that public interviews would allow witnesses to see each other’s testimony and sync up their stories.
The Associated Press reported that Schiff’s letter explained that witness transcripts would be released when “it will not jeopardize” the investigation. Both Republicans and Democrats on the Intelligence Committee are participating in the closed-door sessions. However Republicans on the committee have accused Schiff of running the closed proceedings unfairly.
The number of Trump officials subpoenaed to testify continues to grow, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who resigned Thursday.
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Schiff said the actual hearings will be public, the AP reported, though he didn’t say which witnesses may testify.
Gianforte said House progress on other issues has been harmed by impeachment; although he talked about committee-level progress issues like prescription drugs, what’s making it to the House floor has been affected.
“It’s preventing anything useful getting done. I mean, there are things we need to be working on. We need to be securing our boarder. We need to be reforming our immigration laws. We need to get health care costs down, but it’s consuming all the bandwidth,” Gianforte said. “We have to move beyond political theater, back to getting work done for Montanans and the American people.”
In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his caucus Wednesday to expect an impeachment trial around Thanksgiving on charges brought by the House. In campaign ads, McConnell has said the impeachment stops with the Senate’s Republican majority.
Gianforte declined to speculate about whether impeachment proceedings would color Montana’s 2020 election races, much like Democratic Sen. Jon Tester did when asked by The Gazette two weeks ago. Gianforte is a Republican primary candidate for Montana governor.
A University of Montana poll from late September showed that 52% of respondents opposed impeachment and removal of Trump from office, while 39% supported and 10% didn’t know. The margin of error was plus or minus 5.63%.