WASHINGTON — For weeks, lawmakers and witnesses have been striding past reporters in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center to enter a room marked “RESTRICTED AREA,” the secure chamber where administration officials have been testifying confidentially in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
On Monday, the public got its first glimpse into what the inquiry sounds and feels like when Democrats leading the investigation into Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine released the first two transcripts of their so-far secret interviews. The hundreds of pages of material offered a rare, detailed peek inside the lengthy sessions, giving a sense of both the dullness and the drama that have characterized the proceedings.
The transcripts — two more of which are to be released on Tuesday — are the leading edge of the new, public phase of the impeachment inquiry, which will soon move to televised hearings that aim to lay out Democrats’ case that the president abused his power to enlist a foreign country’s help in smearing his political opponents.
The House Intelligence Committee posted on its website a 317-page transcript of the testimony by Marie L. Yovanovitch, the ousted former ambassador to Ukraine, and a 156-page transcript of the questioning of Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
They painted a picture of hours of mind-numbingly detailed questions about meetings and memos, punctuated by occasional moments of emotion and bursts of legal sparring between Republicans and Democrats. They reveal that Republicans — who have complained publicly of being frozen out of the inquiry — have in fact been availing themselves aggressively of the equal time they are provided to question witnesses.
And they provide a minute-by-minute account of how Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the intelligence panel, has been working to build the narrative at the heart of the inquiry — that Mr. Trump improperly pressed Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, as well as conspiracy theories that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The questions and answers reveal the methodical approach that Mr. Schiff and other members have taken toward coaxing information out of their witnesses. Mr. Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, often asks wide-ranging questions that appear meant to lead to sweeping statements by the witnesses. The committee’s lawyers then follow up with a series of detailed questions about the timing of the events in question.
The transcripts indicate that, despite repeated claims that they have been prevented from taking part in the impeachment inquiry, Republican members have spent many hours questioning witnesses. In some cases, the Republican members pressed the diplomats on detailed points of inquiry. In others, they used their time behind closed doors to criticize the impeachment process or to challenge the integrity of the witnesses.
At the beginning of Mr. McKinley’s interview, Republican lawmakers used their opening statements to lash out at the inquiry, making the same arguments about an unfair process behind closed doors that they later delivered to scrums of reporters after leaving the sessions.
“Democrats are conducting a rushed, closed-door and unprecedented inquiry,” Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, complained in one session. Before the interview of Mr. McKinley could begin, Representative Lee Zeldin, Republican of New York, questioned “what specific provision of House rules” gives the committee the right to interview diplomats in the first place. And Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina, griped about leaks.
“Obviously, we’ve talked about confidentiality in here,” he said, according to the transcript. “I am assuming that, based on the releases that some of my Democrat colleagues were quoted in various newspaper articles yesterday with specific facts that came from the hearing yesterday, that those releases are not deemed a breach of House rules.”
The House voted on a resolution last week that directed the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform Committees to release the transcripts with necessary redactions and begin to move other findings into public view. Democrats could begin public hearings with some of the witnesses as soon as next week.
The transcripts follow a standard set of rules that Mr. Schiff put in place for the interviews: Democrats, who control the committee, start off the questioning for an hour, followed by an hour of questions from the Republican side. The two sides continue to take turns until the interviews are over.
During Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony, lawyers for Republican members repeatedly pressed her about whether she leaked a copy of her opening statement to the news media, prompting howls of protest from her lawyer: “Anything she would know about that, she would know through counsel, so she’s not going to answer that,” her lawyer said repeatedly.
When Ms. Yovanovitch’s lawyer objected to another Republican question, Mr. Meadows grew exasperated, suggesting that the lawyer objected only when it was Republicans’ turn to question.
“You know, it’s amazing, every hour you wake up, every other hour you wake up,” Mr. Meadows said.
The transcripts of both witnesses are filled with mostly dry testimony, reflecting the bureaucratic roles that they held in the Trump administration. And the dialogue between the witnesses and their inquisitors is sometimes interrupted by requests that people speak more clearly into the microphones or answer more clearly.
“Sorry, you need to say, ‘Yes,’” a committee lawyer instructed Ms. Yovanovitch at one point after she answered a question with “uh-huh,” an admonition he had to repeat several times.
But the characters at issue — Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer; Mr. Pompeo; and the president himself — and the unfiltered descriptions of their actions make for gripping reading.
Ms. Yovanovitch apparently grew upset as she recalled the allegations that led to her ouster, including a conversation in which John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, told her she was being recalled from Ukraine because Mr. Trump had lost confidence in her.
“Well, you know, I expressed my dismay and my disappointment,” she said, according to the transcript. “I asked him what this meant for our policy, what was the message that — ”
“Do you want to take a minute?” Daniel Goldman, the chief Democratic lawyer, asked her.
“Yeah, just a minute,” she said.
But amid the tense exchanges, there were moments of levity as lawmakers sometimes appeared to grow stir crazy inside the basement suite after hours of questions and answers.
“Just to let members know, we are going to turn the air back on,” Mr. Schiff said about six hours into Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony. “It’s feast or famine here, and we’re — my staff tells me it started to smell like a locker room in here. So, we’ll turn it over to the minority and we’ll turn the air back on.”
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