Nationally televised hearings give Democrats a new chance to present their case against President Trump.
Wednesday’s is the first public impeachment hearing in more than two decades, and the event moves into the public’s direct glare a historic clash between President Trump and Democrats that has so far unfolded exclusively in private.
Democrats say they plan to use the hearing in the vaulted, columned chambers of the Ways and Means Committee — the House’s grandest meeting room — to build their case that Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, the Constitution’s threshold for impeachment.
Broadcast live on television, the first hearing features two veteran diplomats who are expected to describe how Mr. Trump, his personal lawyer and a handful of political appointees hijacked United States foreign policy on Ukraine to achieve the president’s political goals. They will testify that Mr. Trump tried to enlist a foreign power to help him win re-election, holding back nearly $400 million in needed military aid and a White House meeting for Ukraine’s president as leverage to force Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and debunked claims that Democrats conspired with Kiev to interfere in the 2016 elections.
William B. Taylor Jr., the top diplomat in Ukraine, and George P. Kent, a senior State Department official, will be appear side by side at the witness table on Wednesday. Marie L. Yovanovitch, the American ambassador in Kiev who was ousted by Mr. Trump, is scheduled to appear on Friday.
There’s no telling how long this could go, and it won’t be pretty.
The public testimony on Wednesday starts a period of high drama that could drag on for several months, likely to be suffused with intense partisanship as lawmakers in both parties and in both chambers of Congress grapple with the consequences of potentially undoing the results of the 2016 election less than a year before voters go to the polls.
In the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Kent are expected to deliver opening statements and then face 45-minute rounds of questioning by Democrats and Republicans, who will probably hand over at least some of their time to the staff investigators who have been leading the closed-door interviews. Then lawmakers will have a sort of lightning round of questions, alternating between Democrats and Republicans in five-minute increments. And they could return to the more extended questioning afterward.
The public hearings could continue for two or three more weeks, possibly to be followed by additional public hearings in front of the Judiciary Committee, the site of the show that transfixed the nation decades ago during the impeachment hearings into Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.
If the Democratic majority in the House approves articles of impeachment — a momentous vote that could come just before or just after Christmas — Mr. Trump would face a trial in the Senate in January. As set out in the Constitution, the president would be removed from office only if 67 senators, or two-thirds, voted to convict him, a prospect that members of both parties consider wildly unlikely. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. would preside over the trial.
If that schedule holds, the final vote in the Senate on Mr. Trump’s fate could come near the end of January or the beginning of February, just as the first votes are cast in the Democratic presidential primary contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Four key issues will dominate the hearings.
The Democratic case against the president is built around four major issues that the president’s critics say prove that Mr. Trump abused his office:
Giuliani and a shadow diplomacy: Current and former diplomats and national security officials have described to investigators how Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, led a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented career foreign service officers and established diplomatic channels in an effort to further Mr. Trump’s political agenda.
Mr. Kent told investigators that Mr. Giuliani’s influence over Mr. Trump when it came to Ukraine was “almost unmissable,” and he said Mr. Giuliani led a “highly irregular” channel of policymaking on Ukraine.
The security aid: Congress approved nearly $400 million in security aid to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression. But witnesses have testified that the aid was abruptly frozen at the direction of the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and the Office of Management and Budget. They have said they were alarmed to learn that the aid would not be restarted unless Ukraine agreed to publicly announce the investigations that Mr. Trump wanted.
In gripping closed-door testimony, Mr. Taylor recalled having seen firsthand Ukraine’s need for the security aid when he traveled to the country and witnessed its soldiers facing Russian forces across a damaged bridge. He told lawmakers that he knew at that time that “more Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the U.S. assistance.”
The July 25 call: At the heart of the Democratic case is the reconstructed transcript released by the White House of the July phone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. In the call, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky, who was newly elected, to “do us a favor” and investigate the former vice president, as well as a conspiracy theory that asserts that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election to help Democrats, not Mr. Trump.
The call is used by both sides to bolster their arguments. Democrats say it is direct evidence of Mr. Trump’s culpability in the pressure campaign. Republicans note that there is no direct mention during the call of the security aid and argue it falls far short of providing proof that Mr. Trump was involved in abusing his office. Mr. Trump has insisted repeatedly that the call was “perfect” and exonerates him.
The ouster of Marie L. Yovanovitch: Among the most personal moments during Wednesday’s hearing is likely to be discussion of the ouster of Ms. Yovanovitch from her post as ambassador to Ukraine. Several witnesses have testified about a smear campaign led by Mr. Giuliani to damage Ms. Yovanovitch’s reputation and oust her.
Philip T. Reeker, the acting assistant secretary in charge of European and Eurasian Affairs, told investigators that the effort to cast Ms. Yovanovitch as a “liberal outpost” was a “fake narrative” that “really is without merit or validation.”
Catch up on impeachment: What you need to know.
Mr. Trump repeatedly pressured Mr. Zelensky to investigate people and issues of political concern to Mr. Trump, including Mr. Biden. Here’s a timeline of events since January.
A C.I.A. officer who was once detailed to the White House filed a whistle-blower complaint on Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Zelensky. Read the complaint.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in September that the House would open a formal impeachment proceeding in response to the whistle-blower’s complaint. Here’s how the impeachment process works, and here’s why political influence in foreign policy matters.
House committees have issued subpoenas to the White House, the Defense Department, the budget office and other agencies for documents related to the impeachment investigation. Here’s the evidence that has been collected so far.
Read about the Democrats’ rules to govern impeachment proceedings.
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