A US House of Representatives impeachment inquiry devolved into chaos on Wednesday as Republican lawmakers stormed into a high-security hearing room and delayed testimony by a witness.
The Republicans yelled complaints that the Democrats in charge of the inquiry were conducting it in private, lawmakers and aides said.
The more than two dozen Republican lawmakers, who were not authorized to attend the hearing, entered before Laura Cooper, the defense official who oversees Ukraine and Russia matters, was due to testify behind closed doors.
After a delay of about four hours, Cooper began her testimony.
It was a dramatic confrontation in the House of Representatives inquiry that threatens Republican Trump's presidency even as he seeks re-election next year.
The incident followed President Trump's comments on Monday, who told reporters "Republicans have to get tougher and fight" the impeachment. The Democrats are "vicious and they stick together," he added.
'They're freaked out'
Democrats are investigating whether there are grounds to impeach Trump over a phone call requesting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
By having Republican lawmakers barge into the hearing room, Trump's allies sought to put the focus on what they portray as unfair Democratic tactics rather than on the president's conduct.
Late on Wednesday, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, who led the confrontation, told reporters, "There are going to be other things done to push even harder to have a fair and open process."
Although the Republicans complained of a lack of transparency in the inquiry, the US Constitution gives the House wide latitude in how to conduct the impeachment process and set rules for the probe.
"They're freaked out. They're trying to stop this investigation," Democratic Representative Ted Lieu said of the Republicans. "They know more facts are going to be delivered which are absolutely damning to the president of the United States."
Republicans brought cellphones into the facility even though electronic devices are forbidden and an Intelligence Committee official said some refused to remove them. The House parliamentarian ruled that the Republican lawmakers violated House rules, the official added.
Schiff told reporters that the witnesses testifying in the inquiry have defied the White House efforts to keep them silent and that "the president has urged his acolytes in Congress to use other means to try to prevent their testimony. But they won't be successful."