Johnson Joins SCIF Protest, Calls Inquiry ‘Bogus Scam’

By Lisa Solley

SALEM, Ohio – Calling the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump a “bogus sham,” U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson joined other House Republicans in decrying the process in which a bipartisan committee is interviewing witnesses behind closed doors.

Johnson, R-6 Ohio, was among House Republicans who disrupted proceedings on Thursday, delaying a Pentagon witness from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. Video shows several House Republicans entering a secure conference room, known as a SCIF, using cellphones to record the scene. Taking a phone into the secure area is a violation of House rules, as members are asked to turn over cellphones and sign in before entering. 

Johnson said he had his phone on him, but he had it turned off and in his pocket. He added that he has served in the Air Force for 27 years and knows what a SCIF – short for “secured containment information facility” – is, but it was a moment that caught everybody off guard. 

“Now, in retrospect, I wish I’d left my phone in my office. I had no idea I was going to be going into the SCIF.  Nobody at the SCIF door asked us for our phones. The whole process broke down,” he said.

Although the area is a SCIF, he said there was no classified information taking place and the focus shouldn’t be on members of Congress taking cell phones into the secure meeting room, but rather on what he calls the secrecy of the proceedings. 

“If that’s what we’re focusing on instead of the lack of due process and lack of transparency in this impeachment inquiry, we’re focused on the wrong thing,” he said. 

The purpose of the protest, Johnson said, was to be allowed inside to see and participate in what was taking place, noting he hadn’t been denied access to the room before. 

Precedent for holding inquiries behind closed doors was changed when Republicans had control of the House, and most of the testimony into American deaths that occurred in Benghazi, Libya, was conducted in the same manner as the impeachment depositions. 

Johnson offered no substantive defense to the damaging testimony that has been released that claimed Trump had pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate presidential candidate Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter, while withholding foreign military aid.

“There was no quid pro quo,” Johnson said. “The president did nothing wrong.”

He added that the president has full authority to ask foreign leaders to investigate possible corruption. “This is just a party looking to overturn the results of an election,” he said, referring to the Democrats and the 2016 election.

Johnson’s disgust of the inquiry lies in the lack of due process and that it needs to be bipartisan, he said. He refutes the point that Republicans sit on the committee and are part of the process by saying they do not have full access to information. Pressed further to define access, he explained that transcripts aren’t being made available.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-28 Calif. and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has said transcripts of the depositions may be made public after they are all complete.

“This reeks of impropriety,” Johnson said. “This thing needs to get some daylight. If they want to impeach the president, let them do it open with full disclosure before the American public. 

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, Ohio, said Republican diplomats who have served multiple presidents are saying they are disgusted with what the president is doing. 

“Republicans need to stand up and say ‘Are we really going to try to protect President Trump?’ ” he said. “This is not the kind of behavior we want as a president.

“This is bigger than Democrat or Republican. Literally having a president call a foreign leader to investigate Joe Biden and Joe Biden’s son, that’s pretty disgusting stuff,” he continued.  

Asked if whistleblowers should be protected, Johnson disagreed. 

“Doesn’t every American have the right to see who their accuser is? Sooner or later that whistleblower is going to have to come forward and say what they know and be identified and be faced by the president,” he said. “Maybe not roll it out to the American people and put it on prime-time television, but the president’s legal counsel has every right to know who the accuser is.”

Johnson said the committee can’t be the prosecutor and the jury.

He is clear that he won’t vote for impeachment. Asked if information comes out of the committee that is more damaging that what he knows now, he said: “It would depend on what info is. It’s totally speculative and that’s just getting me to say I would support impeachment of president. The answer is no. President Trump has not done anything wrong. I’ve not seen any evidence he’s done anything wrong.”

Ryan, however, pointed to the mounting evidence from testimony from senior federal officials collected in the weeks since the whistleblower report was first revealed. 

“It’s becoming pretty clear that the president was using his position, he was using public tax dollars to try to get a foreign government to investigate a political opponent here at home,” Ryan said. “That is about as straightforward as it gets and I think it’s slimy. He needs to face this investigation that is happening.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.