WASHINGTON — House Democrats will lay out their case for impeachment in public hearings this week that will explore whether President Donald Trump abused his office with requests of Ukraine for a political investigation into a potential White House rival.
The historic public hearings are the next phase in the impeachment process that could have political ramifications for both Trump and Democrats in the 2020 elections with an electorate sharply divided along partisan lines.
Republicans have balked at the hearings, calling them a political sham to undermine the president, a claim dismissed by Democrats.
“They don’t want the American people to learn the truth about the president’s serious misconduct,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who will conduct the hearings.
In the past month, lawmakers on three House committees have heard testimony behind closed doors about the president’s plea to the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, while the administration withheld $400 million in military aid.
The aid for Ukrainian efforts to fight Russian-backed separatists was approved by the House and Senate, but held up by the Trump administration as the president pressed for an investigation into Hunter Biden’s role with a Ukrainian energy company where he sat on the board of directors.
The House committees heard from more than a dozen witnesses whose testimony corroborated claims by a whistleblower that Trump implicitly coerced Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens in order to receive the aid.
The White House, under pressure, released a rough transcript of the telephone call between the two presidents that showed Trump sought the political investigation by a foreign government.
Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said after hearing testimony that there is enough evidence now for an impeachment vote, but said the case should be laid out for the public and the Senate to see the president’s malfeasance.
One of the first witnesses to testify will be the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, William Taylor Jr., who told lawmakers earlier that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was acting on the president’s behalf to pressure the foreign government to investigate.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing, denouncing the impeachment hearings as a “witch hunt” by Democrats who are politically motivated to remove him from office.
“They shouldn’t be having public hearings,” Trump told reporters Friday. “This is a hoax.”
The president also has called for removing the cloak of anonymity from the whistleblower, a measure opposed by lawmakers across party lines in Congress.
Republicans have criticized the impeachment hearings as a partisan attempt to overturn the 2016 presidential election. They also criticized Democrats for holding closed-door hearings to hear testimony without the president’s legal counsel present.
With public hearings now scheduled, Republicans have shifted their spotlight to Schiff, D-Calif., arguing that he should be investigated for his handling of the investigation.
Throughout the inquiry, Republicans have been tepid in their outright defense of the president.
In a strategic move, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has recruited Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a former college wrestling coach, as the Republican point man for the impeachment hearings.
Jordan has served as a full-throated defender of Trump in Congress and Republican leaders are expected to place Jordan on the Intelligence Committee next week for the hearings.
GOP focuses on Bidens
Republicans on the committee are expected to focus on the Bidens during the hearing, particularly Hunter Biden and his board seat for the Ukrainian energy company that gave the appearance of a conflict of interest for the former vice president.
The Bidens have not been charged or investigated for any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, which would hold a trial if the House eventually votes to adopt articles of impeachment against Trump, Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he has “written the whole process off.”
Graham said he was not planning to read House transcripts of testimony, calling the hearings part of a “lynching.”
That prompted Titus to retort on Twitter: “The mounting evidence that Donald Trump abused his power is so obvious that the new Republican strategy is to close their eyes and plug their ears.”
Despite Senate GOP opposition, Democratic leaders in the House are moving forward rapidly to wrap up their impeachment investigation and move to a conclusive vote before year’s end.
In addition to Taylor, those expected to appear in public before the Intelligence Committee this week include former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
She is a career diplomat who Trump called “bad news” in the telephone call with the Ukrainian president before she was forced out of her position.
Also testifying this week will be George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department who raised red flags over Giuliani’s attempt to broker policy with Ukraine and to push that government to investigate Biden.
The hearings are high stakes for both Democrats and Republicans as they head into an election year.
Public opinion polls show most voters split along party lines over impeachment.
Some Democrats have worried that the impeachment process could step on their messaging for the next election, where their position on health care and other issues has resonated with swing and independent voters in recent elections.
Republicans, too, are cautious about the hearings, particularly in the Senate where the GOP holds a slim three-seat majority and incumbents in Colorado, Maine and Arizona are running behind Democratic challengers in recent state polls.
In Nevada, Titus is the only member of the state delegation to come out in favor of impeachment.
Rep. Steven Horsford and Rep. Susie Lee, both Democrats, back the impeachment inquiry but have yet to take an official position on impeachment.
The state’s lone Republican in the House, Mark Amodei, voted with Republicans to oppose the impeachment process, although he supports the role of the House in oversight into the administration.
In the Senate, Nevada Democrats Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen support the House impeachment inquiry.