This week: Democrats churn toward next phase of impeachment fight
© Greg Nash

The House is turning its focus toward the next phase of its high-profile impeachment fight, after formalizing procedures for the inquiry. 

The House voted 232-196 last week, largely along party lines, on a resolution that establishes rules for open hearings and the questioning of witnesses by members and staff. 

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The public hearings are expected to happen as soon as this month. With the House out of town this week, and the week of Nov. 18, that gives them a narrow two week-window to hold hearings, absent a change to the schedule. 

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate Siren song of impeachment lures Democrats toward election doom MORE (D-Calif.) told Bloomberg that she didn’t know a time frame for the overall investigation, but she expected public hearings this month. 

“I would assume there would be public hearings in November,” she said. 

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation House Democrats pull subpoena for ex-Trump national security official MORE (D-N.Y.) told ABC News that he expected public hearings “very, very soon.” 

“There will be public hearings very, very soon. This week, we’re having the last of the witnesses come in,” he said. 

Republicans have been pushing for Democrats to go public with the impeachment inquiry, arguing that the closed-door depositions have allowed select pieces of information to get leaked without broader context. In an effort to try to build pressure on Democrats, as well as capture public attention, dozens have been trying to get into the secure area where witnesses are being questioned. 

After the resolution passed the House last week, Republicans were quick to argue that the resolution didn’t change the current closed-door depositions. 

The House has a full plate of depositions lined up for this week, though it remains unclear how many of the current and former administration officials will show up. 

On Monday four officials are scheduled to meet with three House committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry: John Eisenberg, the deputy counsel for national security affairs for the president; Robert Blair, an assistant to the president; Michael Ellis, a senior associate counsel to the president; and Brian McCormack, the associate director for natural resources, energy and science for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). 

On Tuesday, Wells Griffith, a special assistant to the president, and Michael Duffey, the associate director for national security programs at OMB, are scheduled to testify. 

And on Wednesday acting OMB Director Russell Vought, State Department counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, Secretary of Energy Rick PerryRick PerryOvernight Energy: BLM may boost staff numbers at new Colorado headquarters | Perry backers reportedly got Ukraine gas deal after he met with president | Paris exit toughens US path to green future Perry backers secured lucrative Ukraine gas deal after his meeting with new president: report The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment drama will dominate this week MORE and under secretary of State for political affairs David Hale have all been called before the House inquiry. 

Vought previously tweeted that neither he nor Duffey planned to testify. And the Department of Energy said on Friday that Perry “will not partake in a secret star chamber inquisition where agency counsel is forbidden to be present.” 

Democrats are also trying to get former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonTop diplomat said request for specific probes in Ukraine was 'contrary' to US policy White House struggles to get in sync on impeachment House Democrats, ex-Bolton aide ask judge to block Mulvaney from joining lawsuit MORE to provide closed-door testimony. Bolton’s attorney Chuck Cooper told The Hill Wednesday that his client would not appear voluntarily and would need to be subpoenaed.

House Democrats are weeks into their inquiry focused on Trump’s ask for the Ukraine government to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment Biden: 'I'm more of a Democrat from my shoe sole to my ears' than anyone else running MORE and his son Hunter Biden, as well as whether or not he predicated aid on the country opening up a probe. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment White House struggles to get in sync on impeachment Hillicon Valley: Microsoft pushes for DACA fix ahead of court hearing | Twitter seeks feedback on 'deepfakes' | Trump officials unveil plan to notify public of 2020 interference MORE (D-Calif.) told The Associated Press that the committees overseeing the inquiry could begin releasing transcripts as early as this week. 

Republicans and Trump are clamoring for Democrats to release the transcripts. 

Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Cheney calls for Turkish leader's bodyguards to be banned from re-entering US Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE (Wyo.), a member of the House GOP leadership, sent a letter to Pelosi asking her to immediately release transcripts from depositions that have already taken place. 

"Your duty to the Constitution and the American people, as well as fundamental fairness, requires that you immediately release the full transcripts of all depositions taken since you pronounced the beginning of the impeachment inquiry,” Cheney wrote. 

Trump, during a tweet over the weekend, warned, without explanation, that he believed Schiff would try to change the transcripts “to suit the Dems purposes” before release, and called on Republicans to also release documents. 

"Republicans should give their own transcripts of the interviews to contrast with Schiff’s manipulated propaganda. House Republicans must have nothing to do with Shifty’s rendition of those interviews. He is a proven liar, leaker & freak who is really the one who should be impeached!" Trump tweeted.

Surveillance

The Senate is poised to start work on a looming end-of-the-year surveillance fight. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on reauthorizing provisions of the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 bill that reformed the country’s surveillance laws. 

The sunset provisions include a controversial records program, known as Section 215, that gathered metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls. 

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that the National Security Agency (NSA) is recommending an end to the program. But the administration is requesting Congress permanently reauthorize it as well as two other provisions — one authorizing “roving” wiretaps and the other on lone wolf surveillance authority.

“These provisions provide the [intelligence community] with key national security authorities, and we look forward to working with the Congress on their permanent reauthorization,” then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats wrote in a letter to top members of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees before he stepped down.

The panel will include testimony from the administration, including Brad Wiegmann from the Justice Department’s national security division, Michael Orlando, the deputy assistant director of the FBI and Susan Morgan from the NSA. 

A second panel will include Adam Klein, the chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board; Jamil Jaffer, the founder and executive director of the National Security Institute at George Mason University; and Elizabeth Goitein, the director of the Liberty & National Security Program at New York University School of Law. 

Nominations

The Senate is turning its focus back to nominations after spending nearly two weeks trying to pass fiscal 2020 government funding bills. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Biden not ruling out Senate voting to impeach Trump: 'It will depend on what their constituency says' Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) has teed up five judicial nominations for floor action this week. 

The Senate will come into session on Tuesday this week, instead of its normal Monday evening start time. 

McConnell has set up a vote for Tuesday afternoon on David Tapp’s nomination to a judge on the U.S. court of federal claims, as well as a procedural vote on Danielle Hunsaker’s nomination to be a 9th Circuit judge. 

McConnell has also filed cloture on William Nardini’s nomination to be a judge for the 2nd Circuit, Lee Rudofsky to be judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas and Jennifer Wilson to be a judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

 — Olivia Beavers contributed