Public hearings in Trump impeachment inquiry to start next week

Full impeachment vote expected to be held in House of Representatives before Christmas

Public hearings in the US impeachment inquiry will begin next week, House Democrats have announced, opening a new phase in the probe into President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, and state department official George Kent will testify in a joint hearing next Wednesday, while former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will testify publicly on Friday. "More to come," said House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff as he announced the development on Twitter.

All three witnesses have already testified privately, and were critical of the White House's Ukraine policy, the role of Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in encouraging Ukraine to open investigations into former US vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and the decision to recall Ms Yovanovitch early from her post as US ambassador to Ukraine.

The opening of a new phase in the impeachment inquiry indicates that it is gathering pace, with expectations that a full vote on impeaching Mr Trump will be held in the House of Representatives before Christmas.



It comes a day after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he expected Mr Trump to be impeached, and for a trial to be held in the Senate. But he predicted that Mr Trump would not be convicted.

“If it were today I don’t think there’s any question – it would not lead to removal,” he said. “I’d be surprised if it didn’t end the way the two previous ones did with the president not being removed from office.”

He was criticised by Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday, who accused the Senate's top Republican of "coming to conclusions before we hear all the facts, before the trial occurs".

“Instead of speculating about the hypothetical trial, writing off the entire process before it is even concluded, how about we all wait for the facts to come out?” the New York Democrat said.

The announcement by House Democrats of the public hearing came as David Hale, the third-highest official in the state department, was questioned by committee members behind closed doors.

He was expected to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the Trump administration’s decision to recall Ms Yovanovitch to Washington early, following criticism from Mr Giuliani and Mr Trump himself.

Quid pro quo

The stakes in the inquiry increased significantly on Tuesday as published testimony showed that the US ambassador to the European Union admitted to offering a quid pro quo to Ukraine.

According to updated testimony provided by Gordon Sondland to the committees leading the probe, Mr Sondland told a leading Ukrainian official that the country would not receive military aid if it did not open the investigations demanded by Mr Trump into Mr Biden and his son. Hunter Biden had held a board position at Burisma, a Ukrainian oil and gas company.

Mr Sondland gave his initial testimony on October 17th. The House committees in charge of the inquiry released both sets of testimonies on Tuesday.

In his updated deposition, Mr Sondland said that he had discussed the matter with Andriy Yermak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on the sidelines of a September 1st meeting between vice-president Mike Pence and the Ukrainian president in Warsaw, just before Mr Pence's visit to Ireland and Britain.

“I now recall speaking individually with Mr Yermak, where I said that resumption of the US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks,” Mr Sondland said.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent