Fireworks expected as televised Trump impeachment hearings open
WASHINGTON, Nov 13, 2019 (AFP) – Donald Trump faces the most perilous
challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of
the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras
Democrats who control the House of Representatives plan to prove over
several weeks of hearings that the US leader abused his office by seeking
Ukraine’s help for his 2020 reelection campaign, and sought to extort his
Kiev counterpart into finding dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Trump says the inquiry is “corrupt” and “illegal,” and maintains he did
In a late-night tweet on the eve of the hearings, he retweeted a lengthy
Fox News segment assailing the proceedings as a “phony showtrial” staged by
“raging psychotic Democrats.”
The investigation threatens to make Trump only the third US president to
be impeached, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, although
to be removed from office he would need to be convicted by the Republican-led
Neither Johnson or Clinton was convicted and removed. But in 1974 Richard
Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment and removal from office for
the Watergate scandal.
“On the basis of what the witnesses have had to say so far, there are any
number of potentially impeachable offenses: including bribery, including high
crimes and misdemeanors,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff,
who will lead the hearings, told NPR radio.
– Fiery hearings expected –
Hearings are expected to be fiery as a series of government officials take
the stand to testify on Trump’s Ukraine machinations during the middle of
Coming just one year before national elections, the hearings carry great
risks for both parties and no certain reward, with a divided US electorate
weary of Washington infighting.
Polls show a slim majority of Americans favor impeaching the president.
But they also show that Trump’s sizable voter base, which delivered his
shock victory in 2016, rejects the allegations. Trump has focused his
personal defense on ensuring Republicans in Congress heed their views.
Republicans accuse the soft-spoken and prosecutorial Schiff of an unfair
and unconstitutional process.
They have also sought, in closed door depositions over the last six weeks,
to refocus attention on Biden’s link, through his son, to Ukraine, and on the
widely discredited theory Trump apparently believes that Ukraine assisted
Democrats in the 2016 election.
– Phone call transcript –
But Schiff has said he will not put up with attempts to hijack the
hearings and turn them into a political circus.
Democrats have amassed evidence that Trump sought to leverage Ukraine
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s desire for a meeting between the two leaders
and for some $391 million in aid to get Ukraine to find dirt on Biden, who
could face Trump in next year’s presidential election.
The key evidence is the official White House transcript of a July 25 phone
call showing Trump pressuring Zelensky to open investigations into Biden and
the 2016 conspiracy theory.
The White House has refused to hand over other records on Ukraine policy
or allow top Trump aides involved in the decision to pressure Zelensky to
On Tuesday Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney — who has publicly
confirmed the broad outlines of Democrats’ allegations — rejected a subpoena
to appear before the committee.
The first witnesses Wednesday will be William Taylor, the top US diplomat
in Ukraine, and George Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European
and Eurasian Affairs
Both have already testified in private that Trump clearly used his power
and aid to pressure Zelensky for investigations that would help him in the
“I had concerns that there was an effort to initiate politically motivated
prosecutions that were injurious to the rule of law, both in Ukraine and the
US,” Kent told investigators.
On Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, the US ambassador to Ukraine whom Trump
removed earlier this year, will testify.
Democrats on Tuesday unveiled the schedule for public testimony next week
by eight more witnesses, all of whom previously testified behind closed
House Republicans are preparing to argue that Trump was within his rights,
given Ukraine’s history of deep corruption.
“Democrats want to impeach President Trump because unelected and anonymous
bureaucrats disagreed with the President’s decisions,” they said in a
strategy memorandum over the weekend.
“The federal bureaucracy works for the president…. and President Trump
is doing what Americans elected him to do.”