Wisconsin Republicans skipped closed-door impeachment depositions

'This is a political exercise which will divide the country,' said Rep. Sensenbrenner, who led the Clinton impeachment

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21: Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Europe and Russia testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 21, 2019 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony during the fifth day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back U.S. military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals and the unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukrainians, not Russians, were behind the 2016 computer hacking of the Democratic National Committee. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21: Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for Europe and Russia testifies before the House Intelligence Committee November 21, 2019. The committee heard testimony during the fifth day of open hearings in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump, whom House Democrats say held back U.S. military aid for Ukraine while demanding it investigate his political rivals and the unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukrainians, not Russians, were behind the 2016 computer hacking of the Democratic National Committee. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The two Wisconsin Republicans who had access to closed-door impeachment depositions appear to have skipped the vast majority of them. 

U.S. House Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and Glenn Grothman are the only Wisconsin lawmakers who sit on committees that have conducted the behind-the-scenes interviews as part of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. 

Rep. Glenn Grothman

An analysis of the 15 closed-door deposition transcripts that have been released by House lawmakers show that Sensenbrenner, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, wasn’t listed as present at any of those proceedings. Grothman, who sits on the Oversight and Reform Committee, was listed as present at just one, the testimony of William Taylor, acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, on Oct. 22. 

He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in October that he had sat in on one of the six depositions prior to Taylor’s testimony, indicating that he’s attended at least two of the 17 depositions held behind closed doors. Two of those transcripts have not yet been released publicly. 

Grothman’s office did not respond to a request for comment about his attendance. Grothman may have entered some of the other depositions after the attendance was logged, in which case his presence would not necessarily have been noted in the transcripts. 

Asked about Sensenbrenner’s attendance, his office directed the Examiner to comments the congressman made last month. 

Sensenbrenner told the Journal Sentinel that he had chosen not to attend the depositions because he couldn’t speak publicly about what he learned from the meetings. 

“This is a way, in my opinion, to gag members of the foreign affairs committee and the other two committees — Republican members — from actually going out and talking about what the testimony was,” he said.  

Grothman and Sensenbrenner have both broadly criticized the impeachment proceedings. 

Rep. James Sensenbrenner

Sensenbrenner told the Examiner in an interview in September that the exercise is a waste of time. “There is no chance that the Senate is going to remove Trump from office,” he said. “This is a political exercise which will divide the country.”

Sensenbrenner, who is expected to retire at the end of this term, helped lead the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. He also sits on the Judiciary Committee, which is expected to soon vote on articles of impeachment against Trump. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats have defended the closed-door proceedings as one step of the impeachment inquiry. They called it a private fact-finding process, much like the work of a grand jury, where proceedings aren’t open to the public. They have since released most of the transcripts and held a series of public hearings before the Intelligence Committee.  

Some Republican lawmakers appear to have skipped all the depositions they had access to, according to the transcripts, while others attended just a few. And some GOP lawmakers staged a protest in October as they decried the closed-door proceedings. 

Two prominent Republican members of the committee and staunch defenders of Trump — Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina – attended all or most of the depositions; Jordan attended all 15 and Meadows attended 14, the transcripts show. 

Meadows “believes that as a member of the Oversight Committee, it’s important for him to be present at these depositions so he can ask questions of the witnesses, listen to testimony, and fully understand the facts so he can speak accurately on the issues,” his spokesman Ben Williamson said in a statement. 

States Newsroom Reporter Robin Bravender reported from Washington; Arizona Mirror Editor Jim Small reported from Phoenix.

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.
Jim Small
Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.