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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 TrumpProsecutors focus Trump Organization probe on company's financial officer: report WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year Romney released from hospital after fall over the weekend 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 GiulianiGiuliani again suspended from YouTube over false election claims Sacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Biden administration buys 100,000 doses of Lilly antibody drug 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 ConnollyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump teases on 2024 run Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission 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 senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports Live coverage: Senators enter second day of questions in impeachment trial 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 JordanJim Jordan calls for House Judiciary hearing on 'cancel culture' CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' 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 PerryNew Democratic super PAC to target swing-district Republicans over vote to overturn election The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Focus on vaccine, virus, travel NYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG 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 NunesRepublican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC What good are the intelligence committees? CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be MORE (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward 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.