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A Preview Of This Week's Public Impeachment Hearings


White House aides, diplomats and Pentagon officials have spent hours behind closed doors in the House impeachment inquiry.


They have answered lawmakers' questions about President Trump and Ukraine. And those lawmakers have since released thousands of pages of written testimony.

CORNISH: And now we get to hear three of those witnesses in their own words. On Wednesday, it's the acting ambassador to Ukraine and the deputy assistant secretary of state for the region. Then on Friday, the former ambassador to Ukraine testifies in the impeachment inquiry. NPR's Tim Mak joins us now for a preview.

Welcome to the studio.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

CORNISH: Before we get to the week ahead, I understand the House Intelligence Committee has released several new transcripts of their closed-door depositions. One in particular jumped out at you. Whose is it? What do they say?

MAK: So the one that jumped out to me is the transcript for Laura Cooper. She's a Pentagon official in charge of the Defense Department's policy towards Ukraine. She says that the Pentagon certified that Ukraine's military met certain anti-corruption benchmarks that were required for their portion of the aid to flow. That's the Pentagon's portion of the aid to flow. What's interesting about this is that it kind of undercuts the president's own argument, which is that he held up aid because he was concerned about Ukrainian corruption. In fact, his own Department of Defense had said Ukraine was meeting U.S. benchmarks on corruption.

CORNISH: Now I want to talk about the public hearings. What exactly will happen during these next two days?

MAK: So usually, committee hearings are kind of - you've seen them. They're five minutes for a Republican lawmaker and then five minutes for a Democratic lawmaker. But the House recently passed rules for the impeachment inquiry, and this allows for longer periods of questioning. Republicans and Democrats will be allowed to ask questions for a straight 45 minutes each. Now, that can only be used by the chairman - that's chairman Adam Schiff - or the ranking member - that's Republican Devin Nunes - or a lawyer on their committee that they designate. The logic behind this is that there are complicated issues here at play in these hearings and that five minutes just isn't enough to establish fact patterns or get deeper into some of the important issues that they're trying to discuss. So there's going to be at least one initial round of this prolonged questioning, and then we move into this more typical five-minute back-and-forth of lawmaker questions.

CORNISH: So even though we've seen some transcripts from some of these witnesses, the sense is we're going to learn more from them in public testimony.

MAK: Yeah. I think that the logic is very similar to bringing Robert Mueller before the committee after the Mueller report came out; that it's one thing to read testimony. It's another thing to hear people who were present during the events that we're looking into actually talk about why they think there might have been presidential misconduct, why they felt the way they did.

CORNISH: As one sign of the high stakes, Republicans are swapping in one member of the committee for another congressman. Can you tell us about that?

MAK: Congressman Jim Jordan is going to be brought onto the committee. He's a Republican who is the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee. He's an ardent defender of the president. The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee is Devin Nunes. He's been pretty hostile towards the press, generally. He doesn't really do interviews outside of conservative media. But Jordan has been very vocal. He's been in all the closed-door depositions, and he speaks to the press, which is one of the several reasons why Republicans have tapped him to do this role.

CORNISH: And I understand Republicans have their own list of people they want to testify. Who are those people? Will they actually testify?

MAK: Well, over the weekend, they basically released their wish list. The names they put out include Vice President Joe Biden's son, that anonymous whistleblower who filed a complaint that started this whole process off, a former Democratic National Committee staffer, people like that. But Democrats will need to sign off on any Republican witnesses. That's part of the rules that they passed in the House, so it's unlikely that Republicans will get many, if any, of their witness requests.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tim Mak. And this week's open impeachment hearings will be hosted live, gavel to gavel, on many NPR stations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.