Democrats unveil plans for open impeachment hearings

House to open up enquiry into President Trump with public hearings; White House calls it a ‘scam’.

October 31, 2019 12:10 am | Updated 12:10 am IST - Washington

More testimonies:  Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified in the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.

More testimonies: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified in the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.

House Democrats unveiled plans on Tuesday to open up the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump with public hearings, after criticism from Republicans that the process has been overly secretive.

The White House responded that it still considers the proceedings a “scam,” signalling no let-up in Mr. Trump’s strategy of trying to prevent the investigation from going ahead.

Democrats deny that they have been secretive, arguing that five weeks of closed hearings — in which Republican lawmakers participated — were necessary for evidence-gathering, ahead of the public portion of the inquiry into the accusation that Mr. Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

On Tuesday, Democrats proposed legislation for the next stages of the process, giving Republicans the right to call their own witnesses and subpoena records.

The House Intelligence Committee will then govern the process of firming up evidence from testimony and documents, with both sides equally able to question witnesses in a public setting.

The third stage will see the evidence against Mr. Trump forwarded to the Judiciary Committee to draw up articles of impeachment, which would be voted on by the entire House.

Direct role

The rules give Mr. Trump and his lawyers their first opportunity to take a direct role and argue their case before the Judiciary Committee, calling for more testimony or evidence and cross-examining witnesses, the House Rules Committee said. However, it added, if the White House rejects subpoenas for testimony and documents from the probe — as it has done so far — it could be denied some of the promised role in the hearings. That clash does look set to continue.

The “Democrats’ impeachment has been an illegitimate sham from the start as it lacked any proper authorisation by a House vote,” Mr. Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement after the Democrats’ plans were announced.

The revamped procedures do “nothing to change the fundamental fact that House Democrats refuse to provide basic due process rights,” she said.

The new rules are slated to be voted on by the Democratic-majority House on Thursday.

“The House impeachment inquiry has collected extensive evidence and testimony, and soon the American people will hear from witnesses in an open setting,” senior House Democrats said in a statement.

The impeachment plan was released as a senior White House official presented damning testimony against Mr. Trump in Congress on Tuesday.

National Security Council’s Ukraine expert Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman said in prepared testimony that he had personally witnessed a senior U.S. diplomat pressure Ukraine to open investigations designed to help Mr. Trump politically.

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