The House Intelligence Committee will hold the first of a series of public impeachment hearings next week, Democrats announced today, calling three senior State Department officials to testify as they begin laying out their case against President Trump.

In the debut of the sessions expected to be televised live from Capitol Hill, lawmakers plan to question William Taylor, the top American envoy in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior American diplomat who oversees policy in the region, during a joint hearing today.

Then on Friday, they will take public testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine, about her abrupt recall to Washington this spring amid a campaign by Trump and his inner circle to smear her as disloyal.

The announcement, after six weeks of fact-finding that largely took place in the Intelligence panel’s secure chambers far from public view, was a sign that Democrats now feel they have assembled a strong enough record to present to voters as they press their case that Trump abused his power to enlist the help of a foreign government for his own political gain.

The hearings will also almost certainly usher in a new, more intense round of partisan warfare as Republicans try to blunt what they see as an existential threat to Trump’s presidency.

“Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn first hand about the facts of the president’s misconduct,” Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and the Intelligence Committee chairman, told reporters today.

He indicated that his committee, which is leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, would soon announce additional hearings.

All three witnesses have spoken privately with investigators, giving damning accounts of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and how Yovanovitch was treated.

They have painted a portrait of a president determined to enlist Ukraine in smearing his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, and using a package of military assistance the country badly needed and a White House meeting its new president coveted as leverage in the effort.

As they hurtled toward the more public phase of the inquiry, Democrats released the transcript today of the private testimony Taylor gave last month.

It was the fifth transcript they have released so far, including one of testimony by Yovanovitch, which laid out the vivid account she gave of how she was targeted by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and still feels threatened by the president’s disparaging comments about her.

The news of the public hearings came as House investigators were working this week to complete private depositions with a half-dozen or so remaining witnesses.

Today, they questioned David Hale, the No. 3 official at the State Department, but three other officials skipped their scheduled appearances.

Those officials were Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget; T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a counselor at the State Department who was among the officials listening in on Trump’s July 25 call with the president of Ukraine; and Rick Perry, the energy secretary.

Two more high-profile witnesses — John Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff — are expected to defy congressional requests to appear on Thursday and Friday.

Democrats consider Taylor to be perhaps their best witness: a military veteran and nonpartisan career public servant who testified last month that he watched with disgust as official American policy toward Ukraine veered off course, apparently because of efforts by the president and his allies to benefit Trump politically.

In an opening statement that became public at the time, Taylor laid out how he came to understand from others within the administration that the entire American relationship with Ukraine had become dependent on its leaders publicly discrediting Trump’s political rivals by committing to announcing they were opening investigations into Democrats.

He singled out Gordon Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, who Taylor said informed him that Trump had made a White House meeting with Ukraine’s new president and the delivery of $391 million in security aid for the country contingent on the investigations.

In the story Democrats are trying to build, Yovanovitch’s abrupt recall from Ukraine in May, at Trump’s direction, was an opening salvo in the pressure campaign that would follow.

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat near the end of her career, testified that she had been removed not for cause, but because Giuliani and his associates in the United States and Ukraine believed she was standing in the way of investigations they wanted.

Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, described career diplomats being shoved aside in favor of Giuliani and a shadow Ukraine policy being run out of the White House.

The open sessions will not look like traditional congressional hearings, where Democratic and Republican lawmakers alternate asking questions in five-minute blocks and witnesses can easily steer clear of thorny issues.

Instead, trained investigators — some of whom have experience as federal prosecutors — will be given lengthy chances to question and cross-examine the witnesses, allowing for a triallike setting that is likely to yield a vivid picture of how the Ukraine affair unfolded.

The House voted along party lines last week to approve rules for an impeachment process for which there are few precedents.

Those rules include allowing the top Democrat and Republican on the committee to designate questioning to staff and for each side to have up to 45 minutes at a time.

Republicans were taking steps to bolster their defense of Trump as the inquiry moved out into the open, potentially shaking up their roster on the Intelligence Committee and road-testing new arguments.

 

Attribution:The New York Times
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