The Slatest

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: Regime Loyalists Storm Opposition Inquiry at Behest of Embattled Leader

A large group of white men wearing suits surrounds an open door as reporters and photographers look on.
House Republicans enter a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The relaunched Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative estimate of the likelihood that the House votes to impeach Trump before the end of his first term.

Every now and then, Slate’s international-stuff expert Joshua Keating writes a column called If It Happened There. The idea is to point out that certain U.S. news developments—the blockade of Merrick Garland, the militia takeover of a federal building in Oregon—would, if they happened abroad, be treated in the American press as signs of a society and government spinning out of control.

Wednesday was an extremely If It Happened There–style day on Capitol Hill.

In the morning, the House Intelligence Committee attempted to hold an impeachment-related hearing with a Department of Defense official about the military aid the Trump administration withheld from Ukraine. Like previous House Intel Ukraine hearings, Wednesday’s was to be held privately in a secure “sensitive compartmented information facility” (SCIF) in the Capitol. There are sound nonpartisan reasons for keeping the hearings behind closed doors for now: The inquiry touches on classified information, for one, and investigators don’t want testimony made public yet for the same reason that police officers interview criminal suspects separately. (That is, they don’t want what one witness says to influence what other witnesses may say.) Republican members of the committee were present Wednesday, as they have been for other depositions, and Democrats have said that public hearings will be held once the initial investigation is finished in coming weeks. In short, things are on the up and up.

Nonetheless—and likely because the content of the testimony that’s being heard is reportedly so damaging to the president—pro-Trump Republicans have made the allegedly sinister secrecy of the proceedings their chief issue at the moment. On Wednesday, this escalated to stupid and borderline dangerous/criminal levels as Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is such a powerful manifestation of MAGA energy that he was once arrested for DUI in his dad’s BMW, led 20 or so Republican House members who aren’t on the Intelligence Committee in a slow-motion raid of the SCIF room as the hearing was scheduled to begin. Several appear to have been using their phones in the facility, a violation of protocol that—if any of the phones happen to have been previously hacked—could help foreign governments gain access to classified information. (And do we really think none of these predominately male legislators have ever used their phones’ audiovisual capacities, if you get our drift, in a way that would make them vulnerable to malware?)

The unauthorized Republicans eventually left, ultimately delaying the hearing by five hours. The kicker, per Bloomberg, is Donald Trump told Gaetz, et al., that he “supported” the SCIF-raid plan in a meeting Tuesday. Thus we have the executive branch endorsing a plan to physically disrupt a legislative investigation of the executive’s conduct in a way that risks exposure of classified material. Very cool! Very normal!

The Impeach-O-Meter at 95 percent.
Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo and Lisa Larson-Walker/Slate. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.