WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, joined a group of fellow GOP House members Wednesday in storming a secure Capitol Hill briefing area, thereby disrupting a deposition related to the ongoing House impeachment inquiry and protesting a process they view as unfair to President Donald Trump.

King told The World-Herald afterward that Democrats already have reached a conclusion to impeach the president and are simply searching for justification.

“They may well end up this way — defining a misdemeanor as ‘being elected president of the United States from the other party,’” King said.

The dramatic confrontation came after Trump earlier in the week denounced the ongoing inquiry as a “phony investigation” and said Republicans “have to get tougher and fight” it.

Democrats said that Wednesday’s action and the Republicans’ complaints about the process surrounding it are simply an attempt to distract from a mounting pile of evidence that Trump went to great lengths to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival.

The most eye-popping revelations came courtesy of the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William Taylor, who testified on Tuesday.

His opening statement to lawmakers, provided to various news outlets, laid out in some detail a Trump-driven operation outside regular diplomatic channels to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Like many Capitol Hill Republicans, GOP House members from Nebraska and Iowa have focused their public comments on criticizing the process that Democrats have employed in the impeachment probe.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who represents the Lincoln-based 1st District, said Democrats’ efforts stem from hatred for the president and are based on a predetermined conclusion that Trump is guilty.

Fortenberry said it’s unfair that other House members don’t have access to the interviews being conducted behind closed doors by the main committees involved.

While Taylor’s opening statement became public this week — Fortenberry said Wednesday that he had not read it — the rest of what the longtime diplomat told lawmakers has not been released.

“Has the president’s team been able to defend him?” Fortenberry said. “Do we give the most hardened criminal more rights than this? All of this is clouding, frankly, the credibility of the entire institution.”

Republicans have called for a formal vote on the impeachment inquiry in order to give them more rights in the process, but some have made clear at the same time that they would vote against such an inquiry. Fortenberry declined to say how he would vote if the question came before the House.

“It’s a biased question,” Fortenberry said.

After a whistleblower sounded the alarm on Trump’s actions, the president released an rough transcript of a key call between him and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That transcript showed the two discussing U.S. assistance just before Trump asked for a “favor” in the form of investigating both Biden and a conspiracy theory about 2016 election interference.

But Fortenberry said his reading of the summary is that Trump was not linking military assistance to a potential Biden investigation.

“That phone call may not have been optimal, but it is not criminal,” Fortenberry said. “I do not see that. I do not see that linkage at all.”

Omaha-area Rep. Don Bacon also has defended the president’s conduct as legal and criticized the impeachment inquiry.

But he did split with Trump this week over the president’s comparison of the impeachment process to a “lynching.”

Omaha Democrat Kara Eastman, who is running for her party’s nomination to face Bacon in 2020, criticized the congressman for not immediately speaking out against the president’s lynching reference.

Bacon later provided a written statement criticizing the president’s choice of words.

“As the introducer of anti-lynching legislation in the House that aims to outlaw lynching at the federal level, it pained many to hear the unfair impeachment inquiry compared to an egregious time in our history in which 5,000 people were murdered — to include Omaha,” Bacon said in the statement. “We should not compare violent physical acts that left terrible trauma on families with the political unfairness and vitriol we see today.”

All House Republicans from Iowa and Nebraska voted this week in support of a measure to censure Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

That measure would rebuke Schiff for a litany of alleged offenses, from his early claims about Russian collusion to providing differing accounts of contact with the Ukraine whistleblower.

“When he says, ‘I have intelligence’ or ‘I have data’ showing collusion — I just feel like that was wrong,” Bacon said of Schiff.

The House voted along party lines 218-185 to table the censure resolution. All Republicans casting a vote opposed tabling the resolution.

It was a display of GOP unity that earned an atta-boy from Trump himself.

“Thank you Republicans,” Trump tweeted the next day. “185 out of 185 present voted for ‘US’ last night. Really good!”

Democrats responded to the censure vote by saying that while they dig for the truth, Republicans are muddying the waters in an effort to protect Trump.

Schiff tweeted: “It will be said of House Republicans, When they found they lacked the courage to confront the most dangerous and unethical president in American history, They consoled themselves by attacking those who did.”

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Reporter - Politics/Washington D.C.

Joseph Morton is The World-Herald Washington Bureau Chief. Morton joined The World-Herald in 1999 and has been reporting from Washington for the newspaper since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @MortonOWH. Email:joseph.morton@owh.com

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