Democrats say public impeachment hearings, release of transcripts forthcoming

Democrats said Friday the panels investigating impeachment into President Donald Trump could begin releasing transcripts of closed-door witness depositions early next week, and that public hearings in the impeachment inquiry could begin this month.

Any case made to impeach Donald Trump 'has to be ironclad,' says Nancy Pelosi

House speaker Nancy Pelosi, right, is joined by House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff at a news conference in Washington on Oct. 2. (Susan WalshéAssociated Press)

Democrats said Friday the panels investigating impeachment into U.S. President Donald Trump could begin releasing transcripts of closed-door witness depositions early next week, and that public hearings in the impeachment inquiry could begin this month.

House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff — a Democrat from California — said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press that the committees will begin releasing transcripts as they conduct more depositions with other witnesses and prepare for public hearings.

Impeachment investigators have already heard from a series of current and former officials from the State Department and White House. They have testified about their concerns over Trump's repeated efforts to have Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Also Friday, House speaker Nancy Pelosi — also a Democrat from California — said she expected public hearings in the impeachment inquiry to begin this month.

"I would assume there would be public hearing in November," the top House Democrat said in an interview with Bloomberg. Any case that is made to impeach the president "has to be ironclad," she said.

In the first formal test of support for the impeachment investigation, the Democratic-controlled House on Thursday voted almost entirely along party lines — 232 to 196 — to move the probe forward in Congress.

Watch: Rules now set to make impeachment inquiry public

The Democrats successfully passed a vote in the House, which set the rules for making the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump public. Now that the ground rules are set, the process could move quickly into the Republican-controlled Senate. 2:49

Pelosi launched the inquiry into Trump's attempt to have Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival in September. The probe focuses on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of Ukraine energy company Burisma for a two-year span when his father was U.S. vice-president.

Current and former Trump administration officials have testified behind closed doors that the White House went outside normal diplomatic channels to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.

Trump also wanted Ukraine to investigate a discredited theory involving the breach of Democratic Party committee servers during the 2016 election. Congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller have concluded that cyberactivities emanated from Russia, largely with an aim to favour the Republican Party.

Pelosi told Bloomberg the closed-door depositions of witnesses will continue as long as they are "productive."

She didn't rule out the process playing out into 2020. That could detract from the Democratic primaries, as the race begins in earnest with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.

A potential complication for the Democrats in their bid to move efficiently through the process is the possibility of a government shutdown on Nov. 21 if further funding is not approved.

Deemed a flight risk

Through a whistleblower complaint and testimony in closed sessions before several House committees, a narrative has emerged of an "irregular channel," as one diplomat described it, of U.S. dealings with Ukraine, led by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

A judge on Friday refused to release an associate of Giuliani from house arrest while he awaits trial on charges of illegally funnelling money to a pro-Trump election committee and other politicians.

U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken in Manhattan said at a hearing that there was a risk the Belarus-born businessman, Igor Fruman, would flee the country. Fruman, who lives in Florida, did not appear in court.

Fruman was arrested on Oct. 9 at a Washington-area airport along with another Florida businessman, Ukraine-born Lev Parnas, carrying a one-way ticket to Vienna. He was released on bail, but ordered confined to his home and subject to electronic monitoring.

Igor Fruman is shown last week during a court appearance in New York City. He is currently under house arrest. (Jefferson Siegel/Reuters)

Federal prosecutors have accused Fruman and Parnas of using a shell company to donate $325,000 US to the pro-Trump committee and of raising money for former U.S. Representative Pete Sessions of Texas as part of an effort to have the president remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

That effort was carried out at the request of at least one Ukrainian official, prosecutors said. Trump ordered the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, removed in May.

Fruman and Parnas have pleaded not guilty.

Blanche said here was no risk that Fruman, who has been a U.S. resident for 25 years and a citizen for 15, would flee.

Oetken, however, said Fruman also had substantial business ties in Ukraine, and that it was "impossible to know" based on the available evidence whether he had been trying to flee when he bought the one-way ticket.

Yovanovitch testified in the inquiry that Trump had ousted her based on "unfounded and false claims" after she had come under attack by Giuliani. Giuliani has said Parnas and Fruman helped his efforts in Ukraine to investigate Biden and denies wrongdoing.

Kurt Volker, former special representative to Ukraine, said in his opening statement to the House last month that he attended a breakfast meeting with Giuliani on Ukraine on July 19, in which Parnas was also present.

WIth files Reuters and CBC News