The televised hearings will be the first open testimonies since the inquiry was launched into the Republican president on Sept. 24.
It revolves around a July 25th phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump asked for a “favour” from him — investigate his Democratic political rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden, and his family, for dealings in Ukraine.
The public hearings are the next phase of the impeachment investigation. So far, the case has taken place behind closed doors.
That changes next week.
How did we get here?
Last week, the U.S. House approved a resolution that formalizes the public hearings, authorizes the release of transcripts from the closed-door testimonies, and allows evidence to be shared with the president’s counsel.
Transcripts from the testimonies have been released in batches since then, bringing new clarity to what was said before committee members.
Afterward, the House Intelligence Committee, which has been tapped to lead the investigation, will submit a report with its findings and recommendations. The final recommendation on whether to continue impeachment will be left to the House Judiciary Committee.
The White House and Republicans have continuously criticized the process as a “sham,” but next week’s hearings will be the first “opportunity for the American people to evaluate and witness for themselves,” as U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff put it.
Democrats are vying for broad public support as they push the process forward. Should they move to formally impeach Trump, which could happen as early as December, the inquiry would move to a trial in the Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans.
How will it proceed?
The hearings will be broadcast live on Nov. 13 and 15 with both Democratic and Republican committee staff and lawmakers questioning all witnesses.
Both Schiff, who is leading the investigation, and Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the panel’s top Republican, will each be able to question witnesses.
Democrats are also likely to use the hearings to show that Trump obstructed justice, which is the basis of another possible article of impeachment, pertaining to blocking some witnesses from appearing. The White House has also said it would not cooperate.
Who will testify?
The three diplomats are scheduled to testify next week. They have already testified privately.
The first to appear will be William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine and a critical witness to the case.
Taylor told lawmakers in private that Trump held back nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine until the country agreed to investigate the Biden family — a “quid pro quo” — an allegation at the heart of the inquiry.
In the transcripts of his testimony, Taylor expressed concern about the withheld aid. He said it was his “clear understanding” that financial support would not come until Ukraine’s president committed to pursuing the investigation.
Taylor, a U.S. war veteran, also described an “irregular channel” that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, set up for Ukraine diplomacy, according to the transcript.
He was asked whether he was aware that “quid pro quo” meant “this for that” and he replied: “I am.”
The public will also hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.
Yovanovitch was fired from her post in May. During her testimony, she told investigators that she had come under attack by Giuliani, who was central to her testimony.
She said she believed Giuliani’s associates “may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”
Giuliani accused Yovanovitch of blocking efforts to convince Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and suggested she was biased against Trump. She called the notion she was disloyal to Trump “fictitious.”
The third diplomat to testify is George Kent, a senior U.S. State Department official.
Kent, in his testimony, said he was concerned about efforts by Giulini and others to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
He alleged that Giuliani led a “campaign of slander” against Yovanovitch to undermine her with “untrue… assertions and allegations.”
He said he was largely excluded from Ukraine policy as Giuliani commanded a campaign to pressure President Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens.
Taylor and Kent will appear on Wednesday, while Yovanovitch will appear on Friday.
The Democrats could announce more witnesses, but so far it sits at three.
Republicans will submit requests for their own witnesses — possibly including the whistleblower, as some members have claimed — but Democrats can veto those submissions.
The Republican’s witness requests are expected Saturday morning, Politico reported.
What will be asked?
Three main questions will steer the testimonies. They were released by the House Rules Committee when ground rules for the impeachment inquiry were established by Democrats.
At the time, they were described as “three interrelated lines of inquiry,” according to Politico. Schiff has since confirmed that the same questions will guide the public hearings, as well.
The questions are as follows:
- 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 an investigation related to the President’s political rival and potential opponent in the 2020 U.S. 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 U.S. 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?
The questions have come under criticism from Republicans, who have said they intend on requesting a variety of witnesses, who may speak beyond these parameters.
Some have urged Schiff to not only identify the whistleblower but call the person to testify publicly.
— With files from Global News’ Hannah Jackson and Reuters