- The first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry is on Wednesday, with two of the most damaging witnesses against President Donald Trump expected to vividly detail his pressure campaign in Ukraine.
- The public will get a window into what House Democrats paint as an insidious campaign by the president and his men to strongarm an ally into delivering political dirt.
- The hearing will be overseen by the House Intelligence Committee, a historically bipartisan panel which has taken several steps to streamline the process and allow for as few theatrics as possible.
- Democrats have one motto going into it: keep it simple, stupid. Instead of laying out a list of charges against Trump, they plan to zero in on abuse of power.
- Republicans are expected to use the hearings to push a bogus conspiracy theory about Ukrainian election interference and suggest the impeachment inquiry itself is invalid because it was unfair to Trump.
- GOP reps will also accuse Democrats of misleading the public, throw the spotlight onto former Vice President Joe Biden’s activities in Ukraine, and call for the whistleblower to be hauled in to testify.
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When the House of Representatives officially begins open hearings in the impeachment inquiry this week, the public will have a firsthand window into what Democrats paint as an insidious campaign by the president and his men to strongarm an ally into delivering political dirt to help his reelection.
At the heart of the inquiry are President Donald Trump’s communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he repeatedly pressured Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for corruption. Trump also asked Zelensky to look into a bogus conspiracy theory suggesting it was Ukraine, not Russia, that meddled in the 2016 US election and that it did so to benefit Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The match that sparked the impeachment inquiry was a whistleblower’s complaint about a July 25 phone call between the two leaders. But a cascade of testimony from administration officials and career diplomats revealed the phone call was just one data point in a months-long campaign by Trump and his allies to bully Ukraine into acceding to his demands, and holding up vital military aid and a White House meeting while doing so.
Legal experts say the president’s actions make him vulnerable to a number of charges, including campaign finance violations, bribery, extortion, obstruction of justice, and misappropriation of taxpayer funds.
For Democrats, it’s all about keeping it simple
Democrats just have one motto going into the public hearings: keep it simple.
Instead of drawing up a list of all the potential charges, they’re focusing on one overarching charge of abuse of power.
To that end, California Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the Democrat leading the inquiry, detailed three questions all witnesses who testify must be able to answer:
- “Did the President request that a foreign leader and government initiate investigations to benefit the President’s personal political interests in the United States, including investigations related to the President’s political rival and potential opponent in the 2020 US presidential election?”
- “Did the President — directly or through agents — seek to use the power of the Office of the President and other instruments of the federal government in other ways to apply pressure on the head of state and government of Ukraine to advance the President’s personal political interests, including by leveraging an Oval Office meeting desired by the President of Ukraine or by withholding US military assistance to Ukraine?”
- “Did the President and his Administration seek to obstruct, suppress, or cover up information to conceal from the Congress and the American people evidence about the President’s actions and conduct?”
These are not your typical congressional hearings
The structure of the impeachment hearings will also be different than other congressional hearings. The intelligence committee will take the lead, and then hand off the investigation to the House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for drawing up articles of impeachment.
The House and Senate intelligence committees have a historic reputation for bipartisanship and an aversion to grandstanding and theatrics, though there are some exceptions in the current line-up of the House panel.
But to streamline things as much as possible, Democrats decided to allot just 45 minutes to Schiff and his Republican counterpart, Devin Nunes, to question witnesses.
Schiff tapped Daniel Goldman, a veteran former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, to take the lead on asking questions for him, and similarly, Nunes is likely to hand his questions off to a staff lawyer. After each of their 45 minutes are up, the rank and file lawmakers on the panel will get five minutes each to ask their own questions.
The witnesses appearing tomorrow are Bill Taylor, the US’s chief envoy in Ukraine, and George Kent, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.
Taylor and Kent provided vivid details about Trump and his allies’ efforts to force Ukraine to deliver the investigations the president wanted while holding up military aid and a White House meeting. Both men are among the most significant witnesses Democrats will use to make their case.
Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to use the hearings to push the conspiracy theory alleging Ukraine interfered in the election; suggest the impeachment inquiry itself is invalid because it was unfair to Trump; accuse Democrats of misleading the public; throw the spotlight onto the Bidens’ activities in Ukraine; and call for the whistleblower to be publicly identified and hauled in to testify.
Republicans were allowed to request their own list of witnesses to testify, but Schiff shut down many of their requests, saying the committee “will not serve … as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the president pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit.”