Impeachment Hearings Enter Busy Second Week
Today begins another week of impeachment hearings by the House Intelligence Committee. By the time the smoke clears, the ground could have shifted significantly for the President.
The impeachment inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee enters its second week starting this morning, and it promises to be a busy and possibly eye-opening week:
Washington (CNN) Democrats who want to oust President Donald Trump and Republicans battling to save him are braced for the most momentous phase yet in the battle of impeachment that is rocking Washington.
The showdown that could result in Trump becoming only the third US president to suffer such a fate will resume in the House Intelligence Committee at 9 a.m. ET with appearances by senior national security officials.
Dramatic televised hearings featuring what is expected to be occasionally stunning testimony over the next three days could decide whether Trump’s accusers can establish that he abused his power to pressure Ukraine for political favors. Democrats have simplified their charge against the President — arguing now that he may be guilty of the impeachable crime of bribery after holding up military aid for Ukraine.
The coming days will also be crucial for Republicans hoping to confound a difficult pattern of facts to show Trump did nothing more than exercise his vast authority to set foreign policy.
Should they fail to undermine Democratic claims that Trump offered a quid pro quo, the GOP may have to fall back on a defense that Trump deplores — that his conduct was unpresidential but does not reach an impeachable standard.
Days of packed testimony will also test Trump — who is unable to restrain himself from unloading Twitter blasts against witnesses that Democrats warn could themselves be impeachable acts.
Hearings will resume after Democrats and Republicans regrouped over the weekend following stunning revelations from key witnesses last week.
Halfway through two weeks of hearings planned so far, Democrats appear closer to proving their case. But Republicans are so far mostly standing firm behind the President ahead of an expected House impeachment vote next month and a potential Senate trial.
Looming over everything is an appearance by US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who is expected to be grilled by both Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday.
Sondland has emerged as a direct point of contact between the President and the Ukrainians, according to testimony from several key witnesses.
Democrats want him to confirm that Trump ordered him to make nearly $400 million in US military aid conditional on Kiev opening investigations into a conspiracy theory that Ukranians meddled in the 2016 election and into former Vice President Joe Biden.
Republicans are likely to seek to damage Sondland’s credibility as a witness, in a hearing that may force him to choose between limiting his own legal exposure or protecting the President.
In a new move in the intricate impeachment duel, Democrats scheduled testimony from diplomatic aide David Holmes for Thursday. Holmes said in a behind-closed-doors deposition last week that he had overheard Trump talking loudly on a cell phone call asking Sondland whether Ukraine was ready to open investigations that the President had requested from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Holmes’ testimony could potentially be used by Democrats to redirect any contradictions to their impeachment case offered by Sondland — or could potentially box him in before his appearance.
Several Republicans were far more shaken by a private deposition of Holmes last week than they let on, CNN reported on Monday.
While last week’s hearings were mostly about background information that didn’t necessarily contain any blockbusters, that’s not likely to be true today. Today beginning at 9:00 a.m., for example, we’ll hear from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindamin, who was the top Ukrainian specialist at the National Security Council and who was one of the people on the line for the July 25th phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine. Based on his closed-door deposition, Vindamin testified that after the phone call he went to the chief attorney for the N.S.C. who told him to keep the matter quiet notwithstanding his concerns. The Washington Post has a good summary of Vindamin’s expected President. The second witness this morning is Jennifer Williams, a member of Vice-President’s staff who also was on the line for the July 25th phone call and testified in her deposition that she found the phone call to be “shockingly” and overtly political but was apparently also told to be quiet about her concerns.
The afternoon witnesses today will be equally consequential and will include two people who were closely involved with the Administration’s Ukraine policy and deeply involved with the efforts to push the Ukrainians to investigate the President’s political enemies. One of these will be former Ambassador Kurt Volker who was among the so-called “three amigos” in the Administration that also included E.U. Ambassador George Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry who were put in charge of the Administration’s Ukraine policy. Among other things, Volcker is expected to testify regarding the extent to which President was pushing for investigations of Joe and Hunter Biden and the discredited Ukrainian 2016 election interference conspiracy theory. Among other things, Volker is expected to testify regarding the involvement of Rudy Giuliani in this process. Volker is also expected to testify that he was unaware that aid to Ukraine was tied in any way to investigations of the Bidens or other issues, but it should be noted that there are also suggestions that he may not have told the complete truth with regard to this issue, something that will make his testimony in particular quite interesting.
The second witness this afternoon is Tim Morrison, a former N.S.C. aide who was also sitting in on the July 25th phone call. Both of these witnesses were on the list of witnesses that Republicans on the committee requested and they are apparently expected to testify that the phone call established the kind of quid pro quo that other witnesses have testified to. Morrison is also expected to testify that he didn’t think that aid was tied to Ukrainian cooperation on investigations.
As usual, the hearings will be carried live on the cable news networks and on C-Span and also be streamed live on a wide variety of media sources available on mobile devices. Needless to say, it’s going to be a long day.