Six Questions Answered About the Public Trump Impeachment Hearings

The House impeachment inquiry is building its case against President Donald Trump over his Ukraine conduct, and a large part of that is taking evidence from witnesses in sessions that will now be open to the public.

Democrats suspect Trump abused the power of his office by trying to coerce Ukraine into opening and announcing two investigations into his domestic political rivals.

Trump allegedly withheld military aid from Ukraine and dangled the offer of a White House visit to the country's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a quid pro quo to get what he wanted.

Both investigations, which were not opened, are into spurious corruption allegations against the Democratic Party and former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 candidate.

The president denies any wrongdoing and says he was only motivated by looking into allegations of serious corruption.

But Trump's critics say he was seeking the interference of a foreign government in domestic U.S. politics to his advantage and that the corruption claims are not credible.

Here are six questions answered on what's happening with the impeachment inquiry.

What's happening this week?

The first of the open witness sessions under the House impeachment inquiry are taking place in front of the intelligence committee, chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat.

Though several transcripts of the closed-door sessions with witnesses already held by the intelligence committee were released, this is the first chance for the public to see those people questioned.

And, with impeachment a fiercely divisive topic on Capitol Hill, these public witness hearings promise to be highly-charged and potentially explosive.

Who is appearing?

The three people the intelligence committee will hear from this week are William Taylor, the top American envoy to Ukraine; Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, who oversees Ukraine policy at the State Department; and Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was ordered to leave her position in May.

Taylor and Kent are slated to appear on Wednesday morning, at 10:00 ET, while Yovanovitch is up on Friday.

What have they already said?

Taylor testified that he understood there to be a quid pro quo on the table and that there was an "irregular, informal channel" of policymaking towards Ukraine that involved Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Kent told the intelligence committee that Giuliani went on a "campaign full of lies" against Yovanovitch and that he thought Ukraine was being asked to open the investigations "for political reasons."

Yovanovitch said in her hearing that Giuliani was conspiring with the former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko to "do things, including to me" and that their partnership was likely the cause of her removal by Trump from Ukraine.

Can Republicans question the witnesses too?

Although the House is currently controlled by the Democrats, who have a large majority, Republicans also sit on all the committees, including the intelligence committee. Republicans on the intelligence committee can question the witnesses too. Each member gets a five minute slot.

Schiff and Ranking Member Devin Nunes, a California Republican, the two most senior members of the intelligence committee, will each get 45 minutes to question the witnesses.

Will Trump be watching?

President Trump appears to have nothing on his schedule for Wednesday morning, suggesting he may have cleared some space in his diary to watch the hearings unfold—and respond in real time, likely on Twitter, too.

What happens next?

This is just the beginning of the open hearings. Schiff has said that not all of the witnesses who appeared for closed-door sessions would be called again to testify publicly. But some of them will and, if Nunes gets his way, new witnesses will appear too.

Per the rules set out in the House resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry process, Nunes has submitted to Schiff a list of witnesses the Republicans would like to call in front of the intelligence committee. Schiff is considering the requests.

Included on the list is Hunter Biden—the son of Joe Biden who did lucrative business in Ukraine—and the main whistleblower who complained formally to the intelligence inspector general about Trump's actions toward Ukraine.

Schiff will soon announce the next round of open hearings to follow the three this week. Once the hearings are concluded, and all of the witness testimony is in, the House Judiciary Committee will consider adopting articles of impeachment.

If it does adopt any articles, based on the evidence compiled from witnesses, they will then go to a vote in the House. If the House votes to impeach Trump, the president will face a trial in the Senate, which is controlled by a Republican majority.

Donald Trump impeachment House committee public hearings
President Donald Trump delivers a speech at the Economic Club Of New York in the Grand Ballroom of the Midtown Hilton Hotel on November 12, 2019 in New York City. Trump is facing impeachment by the House over his conduct towards Ukraine. Steven Ferdman/WireImage