U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler was among dozens of Republicans who on Wednesday pushed into a secure room in the U.S. Capitol, disrupting deposition testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, an action that drew a strong rebuke from one of her Democratic challengers.
Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, represents the Fourth Congressional District. She accused Democrats of hiding the substance of the testimony in order to make it easier to portray President Donald Trump as abusing his power and deserving of impeachment and removal from office.
“They leak certain quotes that they select to create a narrative that they want to control, that they want to put forth to the American public as a lie with one goal in mind — to undo the election, to undo the voice of the American people from a few years ago and to deny the American people the truth,” Hartzler said at a Wednesday news conference in Washington. Hartzler tweeted a video of her remarks.
Lindsey Simmons, an attorney from Hallsville who is one of two Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 nomination in the Fourth District, accused Hartzler and her colleagues of “partisan theatrics” intended to distract from the issues being investigated.
The investigation, led by the House Intelligence Committee, is in the deposition phase, she said. Conducting the interrogations in a secure setting and limiting attendance to members and staff is an appropriate process, she added.
“On a matter as sensitive as this, as a protective measure, we have to make sure that all information that could pertain to national security is protected,” Simmons said in an interview.
The impeachment probe was launched after a whistleblower reported that Trump, in a July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, asked for an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential frontrunner, after Zelensky pressed Trump for release of weapons promised for its fight against Russia.
On Wednesday, Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, was set to provide private testimony. The deposition got underway after a five-hour delay.
There should be no impeachment inquiry because Trump has not been convicted of any crime, Hartzler said. Democrats should be focused on rising health care costs, infrastructure needs and building up the military, she added.
“To show you how unfair this process is, we can only look at what happened when President (Richard) Nixon and President Trump were starting down the road of impeachment,” Hartzler said, apparently mixing up Trump and President Bill Clinton. “First, there was an indictment, there was a finding of guilt first, and then there was a vote in the House of Representatives to start the process.”
Two presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Clinton in 1998, have been impeached by the House, and Nixon was on the verge of being impeached in 1974 when he resigned. Neither Johnson nor Clinton was convicted in the Senate and both finished their terms.
None of the three were indicted or convicted of a crime before or after impeachment.
“It’s unfortunate Representative Hartzler does not fully understand the impeachment process,” Simmons said in a news release. “As a sitting member of the House of Representatives, she should be aware that the President need not be found guilty of a crime nor commit an overtly illegal offense to satisfy the Constitutional standard of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ to begin the impeachment process.”
Hartzler was not available Thursday for an interview.
Hartzler will seek her sixth term next year representing the 24-county district that stretches from Audrain County to the Kansas border and includes Boone, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Randolph counties. Simmons and Erich Arvidson of Boonville are seeking the Democratic nomination.
In the interview, Simmons declined to say what acts Trump has committed that should be included in the article or articles of impeachment. She did, however, raise the recent decision by Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from the Syrian-Turkish border. That has allowed Turkey to attack Kurdish fighters allied with the U.S. in the war against ISIS.
“I believe his behavior in Syria, the radical change in policy he took unilaterally without the advice of the Pentagon, putting our troops in danger and abandoning our allies, is impeachable,” Simmons said.
Simmons’ husband, Chris Simmons, is an Apache helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army.
“We leave no one behind and this man did,” Simmons said.
Hartzler is being challenged for the Republican nomination by Neal Gist of Laurie. On Thursday, he said he doesn't think it's clear that Trump tried to influence Ukrainian investigators to help his campaign, but it's reasonable for Congress to investigate.
He also said the hearings should be open, and that there's nothing to lose from transparency.
Still, he said, there's no shortage of other issues to focus on, including the $22.9 trillion national debt. He hasn't been happy with either Democrats or Republicans who have impeachment as their sole focus.
"I wish Vicky Hartzler and our elected representatives cared enough about our overwhelming debt to storm a budget committee hearing or two," Gist said.