The first open impeachment hearings into US President Donald Trump will begin next week, the congressman leading the probe said Wednesday, as it heads into a highly-anticipated public phase.
William Taylor, Washington’s top diplomat to Ukraine, and deputy assistant secretary of state George Kent will testify on Wednesday next week, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff announced.
People will be able to see “the degree to which the president enlisted whole departments of government in the illicit aim of trying to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent,” Schiff said.
In a closed-door deposition, Taylor bolstered the principal accusation against Trump — that the president abused his office by withholding military aid to blackmail Kiev into launching investigations that could help him politically.
Kent, who heads the European and Eurasian bureau at the State Department, expressed concerns about White House efforts to remove the then ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
Yovanovitch herself told investigators she was ousted because Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others wanted her out of the way as they conducted Ukraine policy outside traditional diplomatic channels. She is scheduled to appear next Friday.
Schiff has already begun releasing transcripts of private witness testimony but it is widely believed that the trio’s appearance at public hearings could have a more dramatic impact on the American public.
The Capitol Hill hearings will be broadcast live as lawmakers from both parties and trained staff question witnesses, many of whom the White House has sought to discredit.
Republican lawmakers have spent weeks accusing Democrats of holding “sham” secret hearings in the US Capitol basement and demanding a more open process.
Schiff said that moment in the fast-moving inquiry had arrived, and that Americans would be able to hear the accounts of potential abuse of power directly from witnesses who were caught up in the scandal.
The 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 learn first-hand about the facts of the president’s misconduct,” Schiff added.
– ‘Don’t be fooled’ –
An anonymous whistleblower filed a complaint in September highlighting potential abuse of power by the president when he telephoned Ukraine’s leader and asked him to investigate Trump’s potential 2020 election rival Joe Biden.
The complaint led Democrats to formally launch their impeachment inquiry, which has led to an avalanche of testimony from several witnesses, including current and former diplomats or administration officials who have largely corroborated the whistleblower’s account.
Even so, Trump has repeatedly attacked the complaint as “false” and “phony,” and has demanded the whistleblower’s identity be revealed.
Trump loyalists in Congress have been disparaging the impeachment process, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sought to do after Schiff’s announcement.
“Don’t be fooled. Public hearings are not the same as FAIR hearings,” McCarthy tweeted.
The marquee appearance teed up for next week may well be Taylor’s.
The Vietnam war veteran and career diplomat, during his testimony to investigators last month, expressed grave concerns about the Trump administration’s “irregular, informal channel of US policy-making with respect to Ukraine.”
Trump is accused of conditioning $391 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine on Kiev announcing that it would investigate a Ukrainian energy company with ties to Biden’s son.
Taylor said a US diplomat closely involved in the shadow diplomacy, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, told him that “‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.”
While several witnesses have already testified, the White House continues its efforts to stonewall the investigation.
On Tuesday Democrats summoned the highest-ranking White House official yet, Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, to testify this week, although he is highly likely to refuse.
Mulvaney publicly stated last month that the decision to freeze aid was tied to the demand for investigations of Democrats. He later walked back those comments.