House to hold public impeachment hearings next week

House Democrats announced Wednesday that they will hold their first public impeachment hearings next week, marking an escalation of their investigation into President TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president MORE's dealings with Ukraine.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said that lawmakers initially plan to call in three witnesses as Democrats begin making their case to the public that Trump pressured a foreign power to investigate political opponents.

Schiff said that William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, and George Kent, a top State Department official, will testify next Wednesday. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is then expected to testify next Friday.

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Democrats have been moving towards holding public hearings this month as they shift the impeachment inquiry to a public phase after initially holding a series of depositions behind closed doors with current and former administration officials.

The House voted last week largely along party lines to pass a measure outlining the procedures for impeachment, and Democrats this week released a series of transcripts of the previous closed-door depositions, including Yovanovitch's transcript on Monday.

Yovanovitch had testified last month about a concerted effort led by Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Parnas says he doesn't think that Joe Biden did anything wrong regarding Ukraine Parnas: Environment around Trump 'like a cult' MORE, the president's personal lawyer, to remove her from her diplomatic post. According to transcripts released this week, Yovanovitch told investigators how Giuliani worked outside government channels in a multipronged effort to oust her.

"I thought that this was a dangerous precedent, that as far as I could tell, since I didn't have any other explanation, that private interests and people who don't like a particular American ambassador could combine to, you know, find somebody who was more suitable for their interests," she testified on Oct. 11, according to the transcript. "It should be the State Department, the President, who makes decisions about which ambassador."

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, was removed from Ukraine in May. But following Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — in which Trump referred to the former ambassador as "bad news" — Yovanovitch said she felt her career and her pension were threatened.

"I hate to be repetitive, but I was shocked," she said when describing the decision. 

Yovanovitch also told House investigators that Trump officials carried out a campaign to pressure Ukrainian leaders to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender in the 2020 presidential race.

"And, obviously, the President did make a decision," she added, "but I think influenced by some who are not trustworthy."

Kent, who serves as the deputy assistant secretary of State, also previously testified about efforts to oust Yovanovitch as well as a campaign to pressure Zelensky into opening probes desired by Trump, according to a Democratic lawmaker at the time.

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyTrump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE (D-Va.) said after Kent testified last month that the State Department official voiced concerns with what he described as an informal alliance between several figures wrapped up in the Ukraine affair who worked in concert to oust Yovanovitch and press Ukrainian leaders to investigate the Bidens for the purpose of boosting Trump's reelection chances next year.

Schiff, who made a short public statement Wednesday, said the committee expects to also release Taylor’s testimony later in the day.

Taylor, who serves as the chargé d’affaires for Ukraine, tied Trump officials to a secretive shadow foreign policy campaign in his leaked opening remarks, saying that they sought to obtain a public statement about investigations into the 2016 presidential election and Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that employed former Biden’s son, Hunter.

Taylor’s testimony, which Democrats described at the time as one of the most powerful they had heard, is expected to build on his 15-page opening statement, in which he laid out in meticulous detail the decisions by Trump and others to withhold roughly $400 million in financial aid until he secured commitment from Ukraine to open the politically charged investigations.

As more and more officials have testified about what they consider to be a quid pro quo surrounding Trump's dealings with Ukraine, Republicans are leaning on another witness, Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP chairmen seek interview with Obama officials as part of Biden-Ukraine probe Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war Senate confirms Brouillette to replace Perry as Energy secretary MORE, the former envoy to Ukraine, who they think exonerated Trump with his account delivered on Oct. 3.

The transcript of Volker's closed-door testimony, released Tuesday, revealed that the former career diplomat had told lawmakers that the hold on military aid was “not significant” to U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

"The definitive account on all this is the one from Ambassador Volker," Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump's legal team gets set for impeachment trial Five lingering questions as impeachment heads to Senate Graham: Not 'wise' for House Republicans to serve on Trump trial team MORE (Ohio), the senior Republican on the Oversight Committee, told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday. "He was the special envoy to Ukraine; he was the guy who was in this each and every day working on these issues."

Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryKoch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Overnight Health Care: New drug price hikes set stage for 2020 fight | Conservative group to spend M attacking Pelosi drug plan | Study finds Medicaid expansion improved health in Southern states Conservative group to spend M attacking Pelosi's drug pricing plan MORE (R-Pa.), another Trump ally, took that argument a step further, suggesting Volker is the only fully reliable witness to testify thus far in the investigation.

"He seems to be the one honest broker in the whole thing that has a long-standing relationship with not only the position but with the two countries," Perry said.

Republicans quickly lamented that Volker was not on Schiff's early invitation list for next week’s public hearings. But Jordan said Republicans are readying their own witness list, to be assembled by Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesDemocratic lawmaker says Nunes threatened to sue him over criticism Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers mull Trump's war power, next steps with Iran Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats MORE (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRepublicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (R-N.C.) said the GOP’s wish-list would likely extend beyond the cast of officials who have already testified privately in the probe. He also declined to say if Hunter Biden was on that list.

The White House has repeatedly blasted the House impeachment investigation, calling it a "witch hunt" and decrying Democrats' efforts as "unhinged" last week after they voted to formalize the inquiry.

Democrats, however, argue that the president has abused his oath of office by seeking to involve foreign nations in U.S. domestic politics.

—Mike Lillis and Rachel Frazin contributed to this post, which was last updated at 12:50 p.m.