U.S. House committee to start public impeachment hearings next week
Republicans have so far shown little appetite for removing president
The U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee will kick off a series of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump next week, the panel's Democratic chairman said Wednesday.
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent will testify on Nov. 13, while former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will appear Nov. 15, Adam Schiff said in a statement. All three have already testified behind closed doors.
He said more details will be released in coming days.
In a preview of what is to come, lawmakers leading the probe released testimony that showed that Taylor believed a White House-led effort to pressure Kyiv to investigate Ukrainian energy company Burisma was motivated by a desire to help Trump win re-election next year.
Hunter Biden, the son of former vice-president Joe Biden, served on Burisma's board of directors at the time. Joe Biden is a leading Democratic contender to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
"I understood the reason for investigating Burisma was to cast vice-president Biden in a bad light," Taylor said, according to a transcript of last month's closed-door testimony.
The transcript of the closed-door interview showed that Taylor recounted to Congress his "clear understanding" that nearly $400 million US in military aid was withheld from Ukraine in exchange for a pledge by the country to investigate Democrats for Trump.
Taylor told the investigators he understood that the security assistance, and not just a White House meeting for Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelensky, was conditioned on the country committing to investigations of Biden and Democrats' actions in the 2016 election.
"That was my clear understanding, security assistance money would not come until [Zelensky] committed to pursue the investigation," Taylor said.
Lawmakers asked if he was aware that "quid pro quo" meant "this for that."
"I am," Taylor replied.
Impeachment drive could boost Trump's 2020 chances, supporters say
All three diplomats have raised alarm bells about the release of U.S. security aid to Ukraine being made contingent on Kyiv publicly declaring it would carry out politically-motivated investigations that Trump, a Republican, had demanded.
Televised public hearings featuring U.S. officials testifying in Congress about alleged wrongdoing by Trump could crowd out other issues like the economy and immigration as voters turn their minds to the November 2020 election.
WATCH: Schiff says House committee to begin public impeachment hearings next week
That might damage Trump, but some of his supporters say the impeachment drive could actually boost his re-election chances by showing him at loggerheads with Washington-based political foes.
Democrats had said they had enough material to move forward with public impeachment hearings, which would be a likely prelude to articles of impeachment — formal charges — against Trump being brought to a vote in the House.
"We are getting an increasing appreciation for just what took place during the course of the last year and the degree to which the president enlisted whole departments of government in the illicit aim of trying to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent, as well as further a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election that he believed would be beneficial to his re-election campaign," Schiff told reporters Wednesday.
If the Democratic-controlled House votes to impeach Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove Trump from office.
Senate Republicans have so far shown little appetite for removing the president.
Trump has blasted the House inquiry as a witch hunt and accused Democrats of unfairly targeting him in hope of reversing his surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election. In a tweet Wednesday, Trump called the probe a "phony scam."
Democrats have defended the investigation, citing concerns that the president misused his public office for personal gain.