Trump impeachment hearings: What to know for Wednesday’s testimony

New York Post 3 weeks ago

Three witnesses will appear before lawmakers Wednesday in a public hearing on the impeachment probe of President Trump, including US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who amended his closed-door testimony to say he communicated a quid pro quo to Ukraine over military aid.

Sondland, whose testimony before the House Intelligence Committee will begin at 9 a.m., was one of the so-called “three amigos” who emerged as the point men on US dealings with Ukraine after Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was ousted in May.

Also set to testify are Laura Cooper, a senior Defense Department official, and David Hale, a top State Department official.

How to watch

The House Intelligence Committee will stream video on YouTube, and PBS will carry the hearings live, as will C-SPAN3, C-span.org and C-SPAN Radio.

Viewers can also watch the livestream on NYPost.com.

NBC, ABC and CBS plan to interrupt regular broadcasting with special reports on the hearings.

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC plan more extensive coverage, and several news sites will also livestream the proceedings, only the fourth time in US history that the House has held such hearings.

Hearing format

Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the panel, will have 45 minutes each to question witnesses at the beginning of each hearing.

Schiff and Nunes are expected to cede part of their time to Daniel Goldman, the committee’s director of investigations, and Steve Castor, GOP counsel for the House Oversight Committee.

The hearing will then move to questioning from individual members, alternating periods of five minutes between both parties. Schiff can add additional rounds at his discretion.

Who’s testifying?

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier whom President Trump hand-picked for the EU ambassadorship, was cited by witnesses as having directly connected the commander-in-chief to the freeze of military aid to Ukraine and demands that it commit to investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

He amended his prior testimony to acknowledge that he’d told a top Ukrainian official in September that almost $400 million in aid would be withheld “until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing.”

He has testified that he attended a White House meeting in May with the other two “amigos” — then-special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — and Trump, when the president told the threesome to talk to his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

A day after Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sondland told Trump in a cellphone conversation overheard by three other people that Zelenskiy had agreed to carry out probes.

According to State Department official David Holmes, a witness who testified about the call, Sondland then said that Trump “only cares about ‘big stuff'” when it comes to Ukraine, like the “Biden investigation.”

Sondland recalled in his supplemental testimony that he told a top aide to Zelenskiy “that resumption of US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

Trump at first called Sondland “a really good man and great American,” but later told reporters “I hardly know the gentleman” after the diplomat supplemented his testimony.

Also testifying will be Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs, who will likely face questions about what she knew about the holdup of aid to Ukraine and whether it was an attempt to pressure Zelensky into opening probes would benefit Trump politically.

Cooper testified behind closed doors that she had learned in July that the president had “concerns about Ukraine and Ukraine security assistance.”

She testified that on July 26, a budget official clarified that the aid had been held up for reasons “relate[d] to the president’s concerns about corruption.”

Cooper also said she had a “very strong inference” that the Ukrainians knew the aid was frozen after speaking with Volker – testimony that undercut a key White House argument that there could be no quid pro quo because Ukraine did not know that aid was being withheld.

The final witness Wednesday will be David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, who testified earlier this month that he never heard about the investigations into the Bidens, Burisma — — the Ukrainian gas giant that hired Hunter as a board member in 2014 — and the 2016 election “in the government channels.”

Hale told lawmakers that he was unaware of what was being pursued in Ukraine and said he was surprised when he learned about it in the wake of the release of the transcript of the July 25 call.
“It was not something that was apparent to me,” Hale said.

What are the two sides saying?

House Democrats argue that Trump abused his authority in pressing the Ukrainian government to investigate the Bidens.

Trump also pushed for a probe into the 2016 election, believing it was Ukraine and not Russia that meddled in the contest.

Republicans insist the evidence does not support the allegations that “Trump pressured Ukraine to conduct investigations into the president’s political rivals” and does not support the allegations that “Trump covered up misconduct or obstructed justice,” the GOP wrote in a memo on strategy.

GOP lawmakers have called the House probe a sham, while the president himself has called it an attempted coup.

What happens next?

Democrats consider the open hearings crucial to building public support for a formal impeachment vote against Trump.

Eventually, the Intelligence Committee will send a report of its findings to the Judiciary Committee, which would decide whether to pursue articles of impeachment against the president.

If that occurs, the Republican-controlled Senate would hold a trial on the charges.


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