Public hearings in Trump impeachment inquiry to begin next week

House Intel Committee Chair Adam Schiff says three State Department officials will be the first to testify publicly.

House Democrats leading an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump‘s dealings with Ukraine will begin public hearings next week, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on Wednesday.

The hearings will mark a new, and potentially significant, phase of the impeachment inquiry, which Democrats launched in September. While a House panel has been hearing testimonies in closed-door sessions from several officials in recent weeks, this will be the first time the entirety of the questioning will be public.

Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment investigation, said the committee will hear from top Ukraine diplomat William Taylor and career department official George Kent next Wednesday and from former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch next Friday. All three state department officials had previously appeared in the closed-door sessions.

Schiff said the closed-door testimonies have offered an “increasing appreciation for just what took place during the course of the last year and the degree to which the president enlisted whole departments of government in the elicit aim of trying to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent”.

He added the “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”.

The scheduled public hearings come after the House last week approved an eight-page resolution that lays out the ground rules for the inquiry going forward.

During the public hearings, consulting lawyers for the committees will conduct witness questioning for extended periods of time, as opposed to the traditional format of congressional hearings, in which legislators ask questions in alternating five-minute blocks.

The House impeachment investigation is focused on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic rival, and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that had been investigated for corruption. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens.

Trump maintains there was no “quid pro quo” (Latin for “favour for a favour”) and has called the inquiry a “witch-hunt”.

The Trump administration has categorically said it would not comply with the House impeachment inquiry, saying it was a “partisan” to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential elections and denied Trump due process. Some officials have still appeared, however.

What to expect

The State Department officials set to testify next week had all previously provided potentially damaging information regarding the administration’s conduct in dealings with Ukraine.

Taylor testified on October 23 that he was told by Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, that Trump had made the release of congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine contingent Kyiv publicly announcing investigations into the gas-company linked to Hunter Biden and debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.

Sondland, during his closed-door testimony before the House panel, had initially denied there was any link between the aid and the investigations. But in supplemental testimony released on Tuesday, Sondland admitted that he told a Ukrainian official that the release of military aid was contingent on Kyiv investigating Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden, testimony released on Tuesday showed.

Former ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch, who was removed from the post in May, had previously testified that she had been notified of an apparent campaign against her. That campaign was led largely by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his associates, Giuliani has said.

Yovanovitch told the House panel, she was “incredulous that the US government chose to remove an ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives”.

Meanwhile, Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Eastern Europe, has previously described to House members a White House meeting in May when Trump directed administration and State Department officials to take directions from Giuliani when it came to Ukraine. Giuliani did not have an official role in the government at the time.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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