Trump: live TV public hearing on impeachment probe begins next week

Democrats will bring their impeachment case against US President Donald Trump directly to the public with televised congressional hearings next week, lawmakers said on Wednesday.

In a preview of what is to come, lawmakers leading the probe released testimony that showed the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, believed a White House-led effort to pressure Kiev to investigate Ukrainian energy company Burisma was motivated by a desire to help Trump win re-election next year.

Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, served on Burisma’s board of directors at the time. Joe Biden is a leading Democratic contender to face Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

“I understood the reason for investigating Burisma was to cast Vice President Biden in a bad light,” Taylor said, according to a transcript of last month’s closed-door testimony.

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Taylor and George Kent, another career diplomat with experience in Ukraine, will testify before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Nov. 13. Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly pulled from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May, will testify on Nov. 15. All three have already testified behind closed doors.

Televised public hearings featuring U.S. officials testifying in Congress about alleged wrongdoing by Trump could crowd out other issues like the economy and immigration as voters turn their minds to the November 2020 election.

The hearings would be a likely prelude to articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump being brought to a vote in the House.

Democrats said they had enough material to move forward with public impeachment hearings even though some Trump administration officials have refused to cooperate.

“We are getting an increasing appreciation for just what took place during the course of the last year and the degree to which the president enlisted whole departments of government in the illicit aim of trying to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent as well as further a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election that he believed would be beneficial to his re-election campaign,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told reporters.

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Trump has blasted the House inquiry as a witch hunt and accused Democrats of unfairly targeting him in hope of reversing his surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election. In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump called the probe a “phony scam.”

Taylor has provided some of the most damaging testimony to date, telling lawmakers on Oct. 22 that Trump made the release of nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine contingent on Kiev publicly declaring it would carry out politically motivated investigations demanded by Trump.

Taylor said he was told by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. envoy to the European Union, that Trump had linked release of the aid to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy publicly declaring he would investigate Burisma for possible corruption and pursue a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.

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Taylor said in his testimony that he hoped Ukrainian officials would not find out the White House was holding back the military assistance. Ukrainian officials found out about two weeks before it was released on Sept. 11.