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Impeachment Hearings Preview


So from closed-door depositions to open, public testimony, the first public hearing of the House impeachment inquiry of President Trump is today. This is the voice of Congressman Adam Schiff, the Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, in an interview yesterday with Steve.


ADAM SCHIFF: We continue to learn new information all the time as additional people come forward, as we have an opportunity to ask more questions of the witnesses. We are still pursuing an array of documentary evidence.

GREENE: All right. Let's talk through this moment with NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hey there, Tam.


GREENE: OK, so we have already had these closed-door depositions. We've already seen hundreds of pages of transcripts from those depositions, including from the witnesses who are testifying in public today. So you've got William Taylor, George Kent - remind us who they are and remind us what's going to be new here.

KEITH: Both of these men are widely respected diplomats - lifelong public servants with Ukraine in their portfolios. Bill Taylor is the top diplomat in Ukraine right now. In their depositions, both of them expressed grave concerns with this shadow foreign policy toward Ukraine that was being driven by President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Their concern was that it was running counter to U.S. policy and national security interests. Taylor you might remember as the man who sent the text that said, quote, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." And Kent said in his deposition testimony that the campaign to get Ukraine to launch investigations that would benefit President Trump politically undermined the U.S.'s advocacy for the rule of law in other countries.

GREENE: So a lot of this, though, we've heard from those closed-door depositions and the transcripts. I mean, what - a lot of this is like the optics of just being, you know, in public?

KEITH: Right. And the way these hearings are going to be set up is a little different than typical congressional hearings. There will be 45 minutes for the Democrats to ask questions, and you can expect their top lawyer to do most of the questioning. Then there will be 45 minutes for Republicans to ask questions. This is a long time to sort of build a narrative and tell a story without it being interrupted by multiple people, multiple members of Congress asking questions and showing their plumage as they often do in these hearings. And so it will be a different sort of format and it - you know, the sheer difference is that this isn't hundreds of pages of depositions. These are real, live human beings - diplomats with strong feelings about U.S. national security and policy toward Ukraine - testifying in public.

GREENE: OK. So let's talk about the narrative we're going to be hearing from Democrats. What are they actually accusing the president of here?

KEITH: They're accusing the president of abusing his office, of using presidential powers to pressure a foreign government, Ukraine, to interfere in the 2020 election on his behalf by announcing investigations that President Trump wanted. That's the accusation. And Steve Inskeep, our colleague, asked Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, about what he saw as the impeachable offenses here.


SCHIFF: There are any number of potentially impeachable offenses including bribery, including high crimes and misdemeanors. The basic allegations against the president are that he sought foreign interference in a U.S. election, that he conditioned official acts on the performance of these political favors.

GREENE: And, Tam, what's the Republican answer to that?

KEITH: They say that President Trump was justifiable in his skepticism of Ukraine. You can expect them to sort of pull - try to pull that out of the witnesses - to get them to say that it would be reasonable to have concerns about corruption in Ukraine. They also say that there was simply no pressure. Just go read the transcript, they say. President Trump didn't make any threats, didn't mention the aid. And then finally they say that the aid was ultimately released. Yes, President Trump had put a block on it. But in the end, it was released. And Ukraine didn't publicly announce investigations. That said, of course, by the time the aid was released, there was immense political pressure and the whistleblower complaint had already been filed.

GREENE: All right. So we have two witnesses today and then eight more on the list the Democrats have given us?

KEITH: Right. So there's another witness Friday and then eight next week. This is a big bunch of people who are going to come testify - names that you've heard before, like Gordon Sondland, Alexander Vindman, Fiona Hill, as well as two witnesses that Republicans had requested - Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison. These are all people that were involved in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, some of whom had conversations with the president himself.

GREENE: All right. And many NPR stations will be covering these hearings live, gavel to gavel. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.