Impeachment investigators announce first public hearings next week

President Donald Trump

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff on Wednesday announced impeachment hearings will begin next week as Democrats prepare to take their case against President Donald Trump to the public.

Schiff, a California Democrat, said that three witnesses will testify next week: US diplomat Bill Taylor and State Department official George Kent will appear next Wednesday, and former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is testifying next Friday.

The open hearings mark a new phase of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump and Ukraine and will be the first time that the country hears directly from the officials at the center of allegations that Trump pushed Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election in order to help the President politically.

Impeachment investigators have heard from more than a dozen witnesses behind closed doors, piecing together evidence of a months-long campaign spearheaded by the President’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine that included an effort to remove Yovanovitch from her post and then to convince Ukraine to announce an investigation into the Bidens and the 2016 election.

Taylor’s testimony is among the most significant for the Democratic case that $400 million in security aid to Ukraine and a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were conditioned on Ukraine announcing investigations into the 2016 election and Burisma, the company that hired Hunter Biden. In his 15-page opening statement, Taylor explained how he was told that “everything” Ukraine wanted was conditioned on the investigation.

The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees have conducted the depositions behind closed doors with Trump administration officials who have testified under subpoena over the objections of the White House. The public hearings will be conducted just by the House Intelligence Committee. Under rules passed by the House last week, both Democrats and Republicans will 45-minute blocks to question witnesses in which staff attorneys can participate.

As Democrats begin to shift from the fact-finding depositions toward the public phase of the impeachment probe, the committee began has released four transcripts of the closed-door interviews, which provided additional detail about the freezing of Ukraine aid and the push investigations, as well as the removal of Yovanovitch from her post earlier this year.

Schiff told reporters Taylor’s deposition transcript would be released later Wednesday.

The committee on Monday released its transcript of Yovanovitch’s closed-door deposition, in which she described how State Department leaders would not issue a public statement of support for her amid the Giuliani attacks, out of concern that the President might undermine their efforts.

Kent, a career State Department official, also testified about Giuliani’s efforts to oust Yovanovitch and said he was told to lie low after raising concerns about Giuliani undermining US policy in Ukraine.

By Jeremy Herb, CNN

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