Impeachment Inquiry To Move Into Public Hearings Phase

November 6, 2019
In The News

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One week from today, the impeachment inquiry, a process that has been playing out behind closed doors, it will move into the open. That means there will be cameras - lots of them - and the public will be able to hear directly from witnesses in real time. The first person they will hear from is William Taylor, currently the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine. Now we already have a sense of what Taylor might say because today, Democrats have released a transcript of the testimony he already delivered in private session.

NPR's Tim Mak has been combing through that transcript. He joins me now from Capitol Hill. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: What'd we learn today?

MAK: So William Taylor was leading this formal diplomatic channel between the United States and Ukraine. But he talks about how he learned of an informal diplomatic channel that involved Rudy Giuliani. So his deposition comes in at around 324 pages. You can read it in full at npr.org.

But it had some revealing highlights. First, he says that it was his understanding that there was a clear quid pro quo. Ambassador Taylor said, quote, "that was my clear understanding. Security assistance money would not come until the president" - he's referring to the president of Ukraine here - "the president committed to pursue the investigation." Second, Taylor says he believes that President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was behind the idea. And thirdly, during questioning by Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu, Taylor said that his view was that the withholding of military aid to Ukraine, which the Trump administration held up for a time, was harmful to U.S. national security interests.

Now Democrats are saying that William Taylor is a credible witness. If you'll recall, he was the former ambassador to Ukraine during the Bush administration. He's a former West Point cadet.

KELLY: He's a former ambassador, and now he's back as the current acting top...

MAK: Right.

KELLY: ...Diplomat.

MAK: Absolutely.

KELLY: I mean, this is - Democrats have been dropping transcripts every day this week, starting on Monday. What is their goal, and how are House Republicans responding?

MAK: Well, Democrats are releasing depositions of career diplomats at the outset of this new public phase that we are entering in this impeachment inquiry. We know that these are the kinds of people they will want to bring forward for open testimony. They want to emphasize that these are folks who are career diplomats. They have worked for administrations led by both parties. And Democrats are trying to build this narrative underscoring the evidence that they already have, that the military aid approved by Congress for Ukraine was used - was leveraged by the president of the United States to try and get the Ukrainian government to launch investigations.

Republicans on the other hand, they've continued to insist, hey, there was no quid pro quo. They're trying to say that the military aid to Ukraine was ultimately released, so there was no wrongdoing of any kind. They also point out that the president didn't directly link a specific ask with a specific deliverable in the now famous July 25 call with the Ukrainian president.

KELLY: OK. So those positions on both sides of the aisle digging in and hardening, sounds like it's safe to say. When we turn the corner and go to open hearings next week, how might that change the dynamic? How might that shake things up?

MAK: Well, it's a really big shift - right? - that this is moving from a closed process to a public process. There are going to be televised open hearings. There's going to be probably a good, fair amount of drama as U.S. diplomats William Taylor, who we've been talking about, and George Kent, they - they're both expected to testify on Wednesday. And former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will - is scheduled to testify on Friday. House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff explained why he wants to take these next steps.

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ADAM SCHIFF: Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn firsthand about the facts of the president's misconduct.

MAK: So the big questions in the following weeks will be, did the president condition military aid to Ukraine on their starting investigations that could benefit him politically? If he did, is that impeachable conduct? And will the open hearings lead to any splits within the Republican Party, which has solidly stood by the president until now?

KELLY: So much to watch for. And that's NPR's Tim Mak on Capitol Hill. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thank you.