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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 TrumpBiden prepares to confront Putin Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting Senate investigation of insurrection falls short 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 GiulianiSunday shows - Biden foreign policy in focus Giuliani accuses Biden of 'caving in to Iran' Giuliani endorses Republican Curtis Sliwa for NYC mayor 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 ConnollyTlaib, Democrats slam GOP calls for border oversight to fight opioid crisis Shakespeare gets a congressional hearing in this year's 'Will on the Hill' House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe 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 VolkerCNN obtains audio of 2019 Giuliani call linked to Ukraine meddling allegations GOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports 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 JordanThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Sunday shows preview: Biden foreign policy in focus as Dem tensions boil up back home House Judiciary releases McGahn testimony on Trump 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 PerryThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Republicans seek to sink Jan. 6 commission DCCC targets Republicans for touting stimulus bill they voted against Five takeaways on the House's return to budget earmarks 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 NunesCNN reporter's phone and email records secretly obtained by Trump administration: report Hillicon Valley: Colonial Pipeline CEO says company paid hackers .4 million in ransomware attack | Facebook sets up 'special operations center' for content on Israeli-Palestinian conflict | Granholm expresses openness to pipeline cyber standards after Peter Thiel, J.D. Vance investing in YouTube alternative popular among conservatives MORE (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBiden's no-drama White House chief Ex-Trump aide Meadows pushed DOJ to probe multiple election theories: report Trump working with Gingrich on policy agenda: report 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.