The impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump enters a new phase on Wednesday as Democrats in the House begin the first public hearings for impeachment, which will feature several hours of testimony from witnesses connected to the administration's burgeoning scandal.
According to the rules and procedures outlined for the hearings by Democrats, the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee will be allowed to question witnesses for up to 90 minutes, with 45 minutes apiece allowed for Democrats and Republicans. Committee aides will also be allowed time to question witnesses. A summary of the resolution states that will allow staff counsels to "follow their lines of inquiry to their ends," instead of having lawmakers question witnesses for five minutes.
Republicans will also be allowed to request witnesses to be called as well as issue subpoenas of their own, however those can only be issued if Democrats agree with any of the Republican-issued subpoenas.
"We intend to conduct these hearings with the seriousness and professionalism the public deserves. The process will be fair to the President, the Committee Members, and the witnesses. Above all, these hearings are intended to bring the facts to light for the American people," Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, (D-CA), said in a letter to House members on Tuesday.
The first public hearing is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, November 13 at 10 am E.T. , with a second scheduled for Friday at 9 a.m. ET. Three witnesses are scheduled to appear, including: William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Marie Yovanovitch, who worked as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until she was ousted from the position in May. All three witnesses have previously testified in closed-door interviews, with transcripts of their testimony released last week.
So, How Did This All Begin?
On Aug. 12, an anonymous whistleblower complaint was lodged by a member of the intelligence community about a July 25 phone call between the newly-elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and President Donald Trump. In the complaint, the whistleblower said President Trump had inappropriately pressured Ukraine's leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son for his dealings with a gas company in Ukraine. Trump made the release of $400 million in military aide earmarked by Congress for Ukraine contingent on President Zelensky publicly announcing he was launching an investigation into Biden's son, Hunter.
On Sept. 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House would begin an impeachment inquiry into the whistleblower complaint, with the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Oversight, and Financial Services and Ways and Means committees conducting an investigation into the phone call between the world leaders.
On Sept. 25, the next day, the White House released an edited transcript of the July 25 call between the two world leaders with Trump calling it a "perfect" phone call. The transcript released by the White House showed President Trump repeatedly pushing the newly-elected Zelenskyy to reopen an investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, and asking him to work with Attorney General William Barr and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani on the investigation.
“(Then-Vice President Joe) Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it, It sounds horrible to me,” Trump told Zelensky during the 30-minute July 25 phone call.
Trump asked Zelenskyy to look into Joe Biden's son Hunter, who was hired by a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings in 2014 to serve on the board, earning a salary of $50,000 a month.Trump and his lawyer, Giuliani say the former vice president improperly used his influence to get the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in 2016 because he was investigating the gas company Hunter Biden worked for.
Several countries, including the United States, had previously called for Shokin's removal because he was widely believed to be soft on corruption.
The impeachment inquiry began in earnest as Schiff and other committee chairs began calling several witnesses to testify behind closed doors about the proposed "quid pro quo" of releasing the military aid for Ukraine and a meeting at the White House between Trump and Zelensky.
Multiple witnesses have testified in closed-door hearings, backing up the whistleblower's complaint that the military aid and a White House visit were contingent on Ukraine's president announcing an investigation into Biden's son and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
What is Impeachment?
Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to begin impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States. The bar for beginning impeachment proceedings is quite low, with Article 1 limiting ground for impeachment to "Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Because the phrase, "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" is not defined in the constitution, it can be broadly interpreted by the House in what should count for beginning those proceedings.
Impeachment proceedings can begin when requested by a member of the House of Representatives, either through presenting a list of charges under oath, or by asking for a referral to the appropriate committee (usually the House Judiciary Committee). The committee determines whether the grounds for impeachment are valid, and if find grounds for impeachment, the committee will set forth specific allegations of misconduct in one or more articles of impeachment. Those articles of impeachment are then forwarded to the full House with the committee's recommendations.
House Reps debate the resolution and eventually vote on whether or not to impeach the president. A simple majority is all it needs to pass. Should that happen, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he would base the Senate Trial for President Trump using the same procedures used for the 1999 impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton.
Should the impeachment move forward, several representatives will be selected to act as "managers" to present the impeachment case to the Senate. The House managers act as a prosecutor or district attorney, like you would see in a standard criminal trial. The impeached official is given the opportunity to mount a defense with their own attorneys as well. The trial would allow each side to call witnesses and perform cross-examinations, with the "House Manager" presenting the prosecutor's case. However, the proceeding is far closer to what happens when federal workers are fired from their jobs. No actual criminal prosecution is done, however, the individual being removed from office is still subject to criminal proceedings should circumstances warrant.
The President of the Senate, the Vice President of the United States presides over the impeachment. The duties could also fall to the President pro tempore of the Senate, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Any trial by the senate would likely last for several weeks. A two-thirds vote by the Senate is required by the Constitution to convict and remove the person being impeached from office. Should that occur, the person being impeached is immediately removed from office.
Cast of Characters
President Donald Trump: President Trump is the fourth American President to face an impeachment inquiry after Presidents Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Andrew Johnson, and John Tyler. Only Clinton and Johnson have actually been impeached.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: The newly-elected President of Ukraine is a former actor/comedian who beat out the incumbent, President Petro Poroshenko, to become Ukraine's 6th President.
Former Vice President Joe Biden: President Trump has accused Biden, without evidence, of using his position as vice president to urge Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma in an attempt to protect his son, who served on the oil-and-gas company's board.
Hunter Biden: The son of former Vice President Joe Biden served on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian oil-and-gas company between 2014 and 2019.
Ambassador Gordon D. Sondland: A major Trump supporter, Sondland was appointed to his post after donating $1 million to the president's inauguration. In closed-doors testimony, he told impeachment investigators that Trump tried to force Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter, by withholding military aid intended for Ukraine.
William B. Taylor: A top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine who confirmed that military aid approved by Congress for Ukraine would only be delivered if Ukraine opened an investigation into Trump's potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden.
Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman: A top expert in Ukraine for the National Security Council. In testimony delivered to investigators, Vindman said the transcript released by the White House of the phone call between Zelensky and Trump had "omitted crucial words and phrases" and his attempts to reinsert them into the transcript failed.
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