Politics

After weeks of work behind closed doors, House Democrats plan to take their impeachment inquiry into the president of the United States into public view.

The House Intelligence Committee have called two witnesses on Wednesday to describe how President Trump asked the president of Ukraine to launch investigations that Trump thought might help him in the 2020 election.

In exchange for those investigations, witnesses say, Trump was prepared to meet in person with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and sustain financial assistance — appropriated by Congress — that Washington had been providing to Ukraine since it was invaded by Russia in 2014.

You can watch the hearing as it happens here:

The White House froze Ukraine’s aid for a period of weeks this year and then released it. Although Zelenskiy was close to booking a CNN interview in September, he never made the public commitment that witnesses have said Trump wanted.

Republicans argue this shows there was no inappropriate exchange and say the impeachment process has been a “sham.” Plus the case is based on hearsay, they argue and — for some supporters — Trump’s actions were legitimate or, at very least, not impeachable.

No, Democrats argue — they say that Trump has so abused his office that Congress has no choice but to reach for one of its rarest and most serious remedies — impeachment.

Their first hearing is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. ET and will appear live here. Democrats have scheduled another hearing for Friday.

The witnesses

On Wednesday, Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has called two diplomats, George Kent and William Taylor, to tell their stories. They’ve already spoken to investigators in the closed depositions, and their earlier testimony is available in full for anyone to read (Kent’s deposition; Taylor’s deposition). But memorable moments on television could help move public opinion.

Kent is the senior State Department supervisor whose responsibility includes policy for Eastern Europe — except he was told to “keep his head down,” he says, and “keep a low profile” on Ukraine because the White House had hand-picked “three amigos” to take that portfolio.

Taylor is the acting boss of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. He told investigators that he learned about Trump’s desire for investigations from other diplomats and couldn’t explain to Ukrainians why their military assistance had been withheld.

Kent and Taylor opposed Trump’s policy, in part because it was run by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani — not someone within the foreign policy establishment — and in part because they thought it was bad on its merits.

Ukraine is a strategic partner of the U.S. resisting aggression by an adversary, in Russia. Trump’s freeze in assistance raised doubt about America’s commitment in Eastern Europe, foreign policy and national security witnesses have told Congress.

Trump’s allies

Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., leads the defense for the president on Wednesday.

First, Republicans argue, the case is hearsay because neither Taylor nor Kent nor others from whom Congress has heard spoke directly with Trump and can say what his intentions were.

Moreover, corruption is endemic in Ukraine and that is a solid basis upon which the White House may act, Republicans argued in a policy memo circulated on Tuesday.

Other defenders who won’t be in the hearing room on Wednesday have offered other analyses: Trump’s administration was too incompetent to actually execute a quid pro quo with Zelenskiy and ineptitude shouldn’t be impeachable.

Another defense is that Trump’s invitation for foreign interference in the 2020 race might have been inappropriate, as Ohio’s Republican Sen. Rob Portman argued, but it isn’t impeachable.

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