Impeachment Public Hearings Week 2 — Who Is Testifying And What Happens Next

Nov 18, 2019
Originally published on November 18, 2019 4:45 pm

Updated on November 18 at 4:30 p.m. ET

The House impeachment inquiry begins its second week of public hearings with the Intelligence Committee scheduled to hear testimony from nine more witnesses over three days.

Last week, Democrats launched the public phase of the inquiry with testimony from three career public servants: William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine; George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs; and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

In what was at times dramatic testimony, the trio of diplomats recounted how private citizens, including the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, impacted the Trump administration's posture toward Ukraine. Though none of the three was on the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that set off the impeachment inquiry, Democrats say their accounts helped illustrate how Trump sought to leverage security assistance for Ukraine to secure a public commitment from Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden, Trump's potential 2020 rival and the former vice president.

On Friday, the committee heard closed-door testimony from David Holmes, a State Department aide who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Holmes gave firsthand testimony about overhearing Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, telling the president in a July 26 phone call that Zelenskiy would do "anything you ask him to" and that the Ukrainian leader committed to "do the investigation," according to a copy of Holmes' opening statement confirmed by NPR.

Taylor revealed in his testimony that his aide overheard the call, but Holmes' account was the first detailed description of the conversation. Holmes said that Sondland told him the president cared about only "big stuff," which, according to Holmes, included the "Biden investigation."

Here's what to expect when questioning resumes on Tuesday.

Who is testifying?

Tuesday, first panel at 9 a.m. ET

  • Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council. Vindman listened to the July 25 telephone conversation in the White House Situation Room and reported his concerns about the president's mention of political investigations to the top NSC attorney, John Eisenberg. He said the attorney decided to move the record of the call onto a highly classified system that few could access.
  • Jennifer Williams, a foreign service aide detailed to Vice President Pence's office who listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy.

Tuesday, second panel at 2:30 p.m. ET

  • Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, who along with Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry was part of the "three amigos" tasked by the president to handle Ukraine policy. He was on the list of witnesses requested to appear by Republican members of the Intelligence Committee.
  • Tim Morrison, the former National Security Council aide who heard the July 25 call but in closed-door testimony told the committees conducting the impeachment inquiry that he didn't view the president's actions as illegal or inappropriate. Republicans say his testimony supports the president's position that there was nothing improper about the July 25 call, and they included him on a list of witnesses they asked the Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to call.

Wednesday, first panel at 9 a.m. ET

  • Gordon Sondland. Once a top donor to the president's inaugural committee, Sondland has faced intense scrutiny about his closed-door testimony after he sent the committee a three-page amendment reversing his initial account. In that addendum, Sondland said he personally told a top aide to Zelenskiy that the release of U.S. aid to Ukraine was linked to investigations.

Wednesday, second panel at 2:30 p.m. ET

  • Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department, who in closed-door testimony said that Ukrainians raised the administration's delay of $391 million in security assistance in August. She said that she spoke to Volker about the issue and that he told her he was working with Ukrainians to make a statement disavowing election interference.
  • David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department. He testified behind closed doors on Nov. 6, and Republicans asked for him to appear in the public hearings.

Thursday, one panel only at 9 a.m. ET

  • Fiona Hill, formerly the top Russia specialist on the National Security Council, testified last month that she registered concerns about the parallel foreign policy channel that Giuliani was using to impact policy in Ukraine. She told investigators that she discussed her concerns with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, who said that Giuliani was "a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up."
  • David Holmes, a State Department aide who overheard a phone conversation between Sondland and the president on July 26. Holmes appeared in a closed-door interview on Friday, but several Democrats who listened to his testimony indicated that they wanted him to appear in a public hearing.

Is this the last week of public hearings?

It's expected that the committee is wrapping up its public hearings and will begin the process of writing a report on the impeachment inquiry. Schiff sidestepped a question last week about whether Hill's testimony would be the last open session but said the panel was working to "move expeditiously" while also working to move "methodically."

What happens next, after the Intelligence Committee completes its work?

The Intelligence Committee is directed, under the House resolution setting up the procedures for impeachment, to write a report with its findings and recommendations and send it to the House Judiciary Committee, the panel that has primary jurisdiction for considering any articles of impeachment. That report is required to be released to the public.

What is the House Judiciary Committee's role?

The committee is tasked with evaluating the findings from the Intelligence Committee. It is likely to hold hearings of its own as it considers drafting articles of impeachment. The committee released its own procedures that would allow the president and his counsel to attend any hearings, ask questions of witnesses and respond to questions. The panel could then move to hold a hearing to consider articles of impeachment. If it approves any, they would then go to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

What articles of impeachment are being discussed?

Schiff has said he plans to reserve judgment until he confers with his colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus, but he told NPR last week that any number of impeachable offenses could be considered — including bribery. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., echoed that argument, telling reporters that the evidence uncovered by the inquiry amounts to bribery. But Pelosi also said there was no determination yet on whether Democrats were proceeding with impeachment. Schiff has also said that the refusal of a number of Trump administration officials to comply with subpoenas for testimony and documents could build a case for an article of impeachment on obstruction of Congress.

If the House approves articles of impeachment, what will the Senate do?

Articles of impeachment are like an indictment. If the House passes a resolution with articles, it's the Senate's role to then hold a trial to decide whether to acquit the president or convict and remove him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that the Senate would move to the issue quickly but also that he had no idea how long a trial could last. He made it clear that he thinks both sides should be given ample time to present their cases. McConnell noted that the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton took two months, but he said that was "a totally different case, a totally different time."

McConnell and Senate Republicans continue to strongly defend the president and argue that the Democrats' focus on impeachment is a purely political ploy to undo the 2016 election. A two-thirds majority — 67 votes — is needed to convict in the Senate, so if all Democrats stuck together, they would need 20 Republicans to join them.

How can I watch this week's hearings?

The hearings will be livestreamed on NPR.org. You can also listen to special coverage on many local public radio stations.

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