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What to expect as 4th impeachment process in U.S. history goes public

The House impeachment inquiry will go public Wednesday, with its first open-door hearing on Capitol Hill. Members of the House Intelligence Committee, both Democrats and Republicans, will have opportunities to question two key witnesses in the ongoing investigation around President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff with an overview of each party’s messaging.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The U.S. House impeachment inquiry moves to the next level, with the first public hearings tomorrow.

    Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee will get to question two key witnesses in the ongoing investigation into President Trump's dealings with Ukraine.

    Nick Schifrin joins us now to break down what we can expect.

    So, hello, Nick.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hi, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have been looking at this story day after day.

    Tell us, what is it going to look like tomorrow?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This is the fourth impeachment process in U.S. history, and it begins with open hearings tomorrow.

    And what we're going to see is radically different interpretations from each party on the president's policy on Ukraine. That's really at the core of this impeachment. So let's talk about the logistics tomorrow, first what it's going to look like.

    Opening statements by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, by Ranking Member Republican Devin Nunes, and opening statements by the witnesses, then 90 minutes of questions split between the chairman and the ranking member. And that will mostly be their counsels, Democratic and Republican lawyers asking the questions.

    That is followed by five minutes of questions by other members. Democrats believe that, beginning tomorrow, the public will see their argument that President Trump abused the powers of his office.

    Republicans believe that Democrats will show no evidence of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, as required in the Constitution for impeachment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, tell us — these are witnesses called by the Democrats.

    Who are the two witnesses we hear from tomorrow?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, the Democrats called these witnesses because they say they are career respected diplomats who had kind of a front-row, real-time look at the president's policy on Ukraine and how it was changing.

    So, the first one is Bill Taylor. He is the current ambassador, the top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. He was also George W. Bush's ambassador in Ukraine from 2006 to 2009 and has served in every administration, Democratic and Republican, for the last 34 years.

    Based on his deposition, here's what we expect for his open hearings. He's going to talk about how Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, led an irregular, informal foreign policy to Ukraine.

    Taylor's words about Giuliani is that he's leading a snake pit in Washington and that the president withheld vital security assistance to Ukraine for political gain.

    Now, what is that specific? Taylor will testify that, beginning in mid-July, Giuliani, the president and some allies asked Ukraine to investigate two things, meddling in 2016 and why Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company exactly as Vice President Biden was leading the Obama administration's policy on Ukraine.

    And Taylor will say that Ukrainian officials understood that they had to do those investigations or pledge that they would do those investigations before getting what they asked for, which was a meeting with President Trump in the White House and also the security assistance to be released.

    And then, quickly, the second testimony today will be similar — the second testimony tomorrow will be similar to Taylor's. It's George Kent. He's the deputy assistant secretary of state for European Union and Eurasian affairs, which means he's in charge of Ukraine policy for the Department of State, has served Democratic and Republican administrations since 1992.

    Based on his deposition, he will also single out Giuliani for leading a — quote — "campaign of lies." But he will say that he raised concerns about Hunter Biden with the vice president's office and was rebuffed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, behind all this, Nick, there are the witnesses, but each party — these inevitably become political undertakings. Each party has a message going into this as well.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    A message and a radically different interpretation of the same facts.

    So, let's start with Democrats. They believe this testimony will prove three points, one, that President Trump pressured Ukraine and conditioned assistance. Again, Ukraine had to investigate those two things before a White House meeting and before military aid released. Democrats will argue that's an abuse of power.

    Point number two, that President Trump didn't actually care about Ukrainian corruption, which was U.S. policy at the time, but only cared about corruption of one family in Ukraine, the Bidens.

    And, number three, Democrats are going to try to pressure Republicans to either exonerate President Trump or admit that his actions were acceptable. Now, that's the Democrats' message.

    Let's take a look at the Republicans' message, again, same facts, very different interpretation. President Trump, one, was rightly focused on Ukrainian corruption — Ukraine is a notoriously corrupt country — and rightly pushed the new Ukrainian administration to investigate corruption.

    And part of that corruption, Judy, was the company that put Hunter Biden on the board. Point number two, Ukrainian officials criticized candidate Trump in 2016, which, by the way, they are on the record doing, especially after President Trump started talking about Crimea.

    Now, congressional Republicans do not go as far as President Trump on this second point.

    All right, let's do the third point, that the bottom line, Republicans will say that the meeting between Zelensky and Trump was held, and the assistance in the military was resumed without Ukraine doing those investigations.

    I just want to make one small point there, though, that congressional Republicans do not go as far as President Trump does on the 2016 point about Ukraine. President Trump says that, in 2016, somehow, Ukraine was the one that hacked the DNC, not Russia. This is a conspiracy theory that has been disproven.

    What the congressional Republicans start talking about is a much more small point, that Ukrainian officials were criticizing President Trump in 2016.

    The bottom line, same facts, same witnesses, very different interpretations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We can expect each side to bore in on their side.

    And, again, our coverage starts tomorrow 10:00 Eastern.

    Nick Schifrin, thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thanks very much.

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