III. Maintenance of the Confidentiality of Depositions
Procedures during Republican Control:
The deposition rules adopted by House Republicans have regularly restricted attendance at depositions to committee members and committee staff. In 2015, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa was escorted out of a deposition of the Benghazi Committee that he attempted to attend. Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy explained: “I’m a prosecutor, we always follow the rules. [Issa] is not a committee member and non-committee members are not allowed in the room during the deposition. Those are the rules and we have to follow them, no exceptions made.”
The same rules have also restricted the release of deposition transcripts until approved by the committee chair or the committee. When House Republicans gave the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight deposition authority in 1997 for its investigation of the Clinton Administration, the resolution giving the Committee deposition authority provided that depositions would be “considered as taken in executive session,” which meant that deposition evidence obtained was subject to the House rules requiring committee authorization for any public release.
When House Republicans gave the Benghazi Committee deposition authority in 2014, the deposition procedures they approved provided that transcripts could be released only with approval of the committee chair or a committee vote. The deposition regulations established by House Republicans in 2017 adopted the same restrictions on release of deposition transcripts by other committees.
House Republican chairs have regularly used their authority to withhold the release of deposition transcripts for extended periods of time. In 1997, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee kept depositions confidential for months during its inquiry into the Clinton Administration. In 2015, over a year into the investigation by the Benghazi Committee, Chairman Gowdy stated, “[T]he Committee does not plan to release the transcript of any witnesses. ... Releasing transcripts can impact the recollections of other witnesses, jeopardize the efficacy of the investigation, alert witnesses to lines of inquiry best not made public, and publicize personal information.”
In maintaining the confidentiality of depositions, the Republican rules were following long-established precedent. The House procedures for handling the impeachment inquiry into President Nixon expressly provided that “no member shall make any … testimony or … papers or things public unless authorized by a majority vote of the committee.”
The deposition regulations issued in 2019 by the Democratic Rules Committee chair adopt the same approach to confidentiality as the Republican deposition regulations.
Republican Comments on Current Procedures:
Republicans now object to confidentiality in depositions, with House Republican Whip Steve Scalise referring to the practice as “a Soviet-style process” that “should not be allowed in the United States of America” and calling for every Member of Congress and the press to be allowed into the depositions.