House Republicans have boycotted Intelligence Committee meetings for months after the panel moved to convene remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The committee, which is made up of 13 Democrats and eight Republicans, has held at least seven hearings and meetings since March. All of the hearings were unclassified, according to Politico, but the only one to see a Republican member was an April 28 roundtable attended by then-Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, before he was appointed by President Donald Trump to be the director of national intelligence.
“It seems almost counterproductive on their part,” House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told Politico. “It seems rather childish, but I hope that they will reconsider.”
Republicans balked at the remote work sessions over claims that Democrats want to discuss sensitive information on unsecured platforms.
“These things get hacked. Why are we putting ourselves at that risk?” Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who sits on the committee, told Politico. “You border on classified information and maybe sometimes even spill into it. It’s just not the way to conduct business, and there is no reason for it.”
Politico noted that the meetings have been held via Microsoft Teams, “which features end-to-end encryption to prevent eavesdropping.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, asserted that there was not an organized boycott.
“I really don’t believe it’s a boycott. It’s not an organized effort at all. I would just say that we have concerns about the format,” he told the outlet. “We’re here. Why aren’t we doing it like we used to?”
But a senior committee official rejected Republicans’ security claims as “non-concerns,” adding that the panel’s staff has “consulted our security and the House security” about the risks.
“There was actually less risk of that happening during a Microsoft Teams or WebEx session than there was logging into your House email or Gmail account from your home computer,” the official told Politico.
Democrats argued that Republicans have not made a case to return and blamed their no-shows on their longheld opposition to Schiff.
“They have their grievances, right?” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., told the outlet. “The whole thing is absurd, but they haven’t even really negotiated.”
Hines noted that Republicans on his intelligence subcommittee similarly boycotted a February hearing on national security, accusing Democrats of seeking “publicity” rather than investigating the FBI’s investigation of President Donald Trump’s Russia ties.
The boycott threatens to upend the committee’s work on the annual intelligence authorization bill, its investigation into security risks posed by China’s surveillance technology and its review of the intelligence community’s role in the coronavirus response.
But Wenstrup and Stewart said they would only show up if the meetings were held in person.
“If it was in person I believe we would be there,” Stewart said.
Republicans on the Intelligence Committee and other panels involved in the impeachment proceedings similarly refused to show up to private depositions en masse last year, even though they later stormed the secure facility where the depositions were held with cell phones to protest the closed-door nature of the interviews in blatant violation of established security protocols.