What Is a SCIF and Why Does It Matter?

On October 23 2019, the term “SCIF” trended abruptly on Twitter with chatter about the purported actions of some House Republicans as they disrupted testimony about the United States reportedly withholding financial aid to Ukraine:

A protest by Republican lawmakers blocked House panels leading the impeachment inquiry from hearing from a Pentagon official who was expected to testify about the delay in nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine.

Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, appeared for her deposition at the Capitol Wednesday morning. She was scheduled to be the first Defense Department official to testify before investigators, who have largely heard from State Department officials so far in the investigation.

But the closed-door session was disrupted when a group of roughly two dozen Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.), marched into the secure room where it was being held. The protesters included Rep. Steve Scalise (R., La.), the No. 2 Republican in the House, who said that lawmakers were being unfairly denied access, and that Democrats were employing “a one-sided set of rules.”/blockquote>

“SCIF,” pronounced “skiff,” stands for “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility,” and just after 10am Eastern time, tweets about Republicans entering a “secret underground impeachment hearing” began to appear:

At 10:40am local time, the Guardian liveblogged the protest, billing it as “another publicity stunt”:

A group of House Republicans launched another publicity stunt as Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official on Ukraine, testified in the impeachment inquiry against Trump. More than two dozen House Republicans, led by representative Matt Gaetz, tried to force their way into Cooper’s deposition, even though they are not members of the three committees leading the inquiry … What Gaetz and his allies are demanding is that lawmakers who are not members of those committees be allowed to participate [in that specific hearing], which the House parliamentarian has already ruled is not in line with congressional procedure.

In two subsequent updates to the running coverage, the news organization added:

House Republicans who tried to storm the secure area in the Capitol where Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official on Ukraine, was testifying have effectively shut down the interview, according to a senior Democratic lawmaker … But once again: these Republicans are not members of the three committees running the inquiry. All of the GOP lawmakers who sit on those panels have been allowed to hear the interviews, and the House parliamentarian has already ruled that any other member is not allowed to participate.


The blog cannot emphasize this point enough: Republican lawmakers have been allowed to witness the interviews in the impeachment inquiry. The GOP House members who tried to storm today’s closed-door interview do not sit on the committees leading the impeachment inquiry and thus are not allowed to participate.

At 10:42am, a Politico reporter tweeted that the barrage of House Republicans carried cell phones into a secure facility, breaching protocol:

He continued:

Source tells me the SCIF is now being swept because of the cell phone violations.

It appears that this was a premeditated event, as Rep. Matt Gaetz put out a press release detailing their plans the night before:

Washington, D.C.  TODAY: On Wednesday, October 23rd, U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-01) will lead a delegation of Republican members of Congress to the House Intelligence Committee deposition, where they will demand increased transparency and inclusion in the impeachment process from House Democrats, specifically Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chairman Adam Schiff.
The following members plan to be in attendance tomorrow: House Republican Whip Steve Scalise and Congressmen Jim Jordan, Mark Walker, Andy Biggs, Lee Zeldin, Mo Brooks, Mark Meadows, Kevin Hern, Paul Gosar, Steve Watkins, Debbie Lesko, Russ Fulcher, Buddy Carter, Steve King, Bill Johnson, Fred Keller, Brian Babin, Ken Buck, Michael Waltz, Ralph Norman, Louie Gohmert, Mark Green, Carol Miller, Vicky Hartzler, Alex Mooney, Jeff Duncan, Drew Ferguson, Gary Palmer, Jody Hice, Duncan Hunter, Ross Spano, Bradley Byrne, David Rouzer, Markwayne Mullin, Randy Weber, Pete Olson, Ron Wright, Scott Perry, Greg Murphy, and Ben Cline.

In a 10:47am tweet, Arizona Republican Andy Biggs claimed to be tweeting from inside “Adam Schiff’s secret chamber,” by which he apparently meant the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility:

House Democrats decried the actions. TheHill.com quoted several of their objections:

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said Republican members who stormed in “compromised the security” of the room by bringing in phones.

He said some members did not give up their phones when asked.

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) called the move “dangerous” and said the Republican members should face consequences for “this reckless behavior that endangers national security.”

“Harassment and obstruction by Members cannot be tolerated,” wrote Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) on Twitter.

The outlet noted that House Republicans denied engaging in a violation of security protocols:

Gaetz and other Republicans who had claimed to be tweeting from inside the SCIF later said their staff members were managing their social media feeds outside of the room.

Several minutes after the intial post, Gaetz added “tweet from staff” in a retweet of the first, in an apparent attempt to indicate that he was not actually breaching security protocols:

Another Politico reporter, Kyle Cheney, tweeted:

Phones in the classified area of the SCIF is a significant breach. Rules on that are ironclad … Second source confirms for me that some Republicans brought cell phones into the classified space. Unclear how this will be handled but this sort of thing just doesn’t happen.

It is not yet clear how this will affect Cooper’s now-disrupted testimony.