A dozen hours, three witnesses, a mini-bombshell and a cascade of presidential tweets.
That’s what transpired in the initial two impeachment inquiry public hearings conducted by the House Intelligence Committee last week.
This week three hearings featuring seven new voices are on tap as majority Democrats continue to build their case for removing President Donald Trump from office and Republicans look for ways to crack the foundation on which it is being constructed.
“This is a process. We have a lot of witnesses to go,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Denny Heck of Olympia, who serves on the committee.
Democrats contend President Trump has abused the power of his office to further a personal and political agenda. Much of the political drama revolves around the content of and actions related to a pair of phone calls made by the president.
In the first, on July 25, Trump pressed the president of Ukraine for a favor, which was to investigate Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, and his son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company when his father was vice president. Through a whistleblower complaint and subsequent probe, it’s been learned Trump was prepared to withhold $400 million in foreign aid to Ukraine to get the favor done. He later relented.
The second call was the mini-bombshell as it emerged in testimony Wednesday. It is reported to have occurred July 26 and involved Trump phoning Ambassador Gordon Sondland for an update on the Ukraine arrangement. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, reportedly carried on the conversation on an unsecured phone in a restaurant in Kyiv and at least two embassy staff members reported hearing it.
Sondland will testify Wednesday. He didn’t mention the restaurant call in his closed-door deposition with the committee. Democrats are looking forward to his appearance.
“That’ll be interesting for America to hear,” Heck said, noting Sondland is either going to have to admit to withholding information from the committee or offer a rationalization for doing so.
As many across the nation are transfixed by the televised hearings while others ignore it, most members of Congress are focused on their legislating duties.
Funding for a large chunk of federal government operations runs out Nov. 21. A vote is expected by then on a resolution to keep money flowing through Dec. 20. Many committees are conducting hearings on policy bills.
“We do have work to do, too. I am getting my work done,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen of Everett, who didn’t watch either of last week’s hearings. He said he’s monitoring them and is aware much of the testimony mirrors the witnesses’ depositions which have been made public.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, he laid out his schedule. He reported meeting with constituents representing the League of Conservation Voters to discuss carbon emission reduction measures and spoke about transportation needs with the American Composite Manufacturers Association. He also met with the NATO secretary and talked apprenticeships and trade with members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. There was a floor session as well.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene of Medina, whose 1st Congressional District includes a swath of Snohomish County, said she watched parts of each hearing live in her office. At night she watched the parts she missed. Video of the hearings is archived on the House Intelligence Committee website.
“I think all the witnesses have been very, very important. It’s important that we get the facts out not only for members of Congress but also the American public,” she said.
Attempts to reach Republican members of the Washington delegation were unsuccessful.
Heck, DelBene and Larsen are among the Democrats who aren’t looking for a smoking gun in these hearings. Their minds are made up. It’s a matter of waiting for the House Judiciary Committee to draft Articles of Impeachment to be voted on. U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, is on that panel.
“If the question is, ‘Do I think he committed impeachable offenses?’ Yes,” Heck said. “We’ll develop our report based on our investigation and then it will go to Judiciary.”
DelBene said she hoped those watching the hearings will see that what happened isn’t normal behavior for a president “and cannot be the new normal. We have a president who has betrayed his oath (of office) and abused his power.”
Larsen called for the president’s ouster before the situation with Ukraine became known. The hearings offer an opportunity for others to reach their conclusions.
“The public should expect serious and substantive questioning,” he said. “This is a serious and sober thing, not a reality television show.”
The week ahead
Tuesday: Jennifer Williams, aide to Vice President Mike Pence, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council staff member, in the morning. Kurt Volker, former U.S. special representative to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, a National Security Council staff member, in the afternoon.
Wednesday: Gordon Sondland, ambassador to the European Union. In the afternoon, Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs.
Thursday: Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council staff member.