The first public hearing in the Ukraine impeachment inquiry on Wednesday will prominently feature members of the House Intelligence Committee who have spent weeks grilling witnesses from across the Trump administration behind closed doors.
Democrats aim to focus public attention on what they argue was President Donald Trump’s inappropriate push to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate the Biden family and 2016 election, and efforts to make nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine contingent on the probes.
In selecting Ambassador William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official, to publicly testify first, Democrats are hoping to showcase the accounts of two officials who witnessed “the full storyline of the president’s misconduct” from Ukraine and Washington, according to a Democratic official working on the inquiry.
For their part, Republicans on the committee, including some of Trump’s staunchest defenders, have argued that Trump’s actions were not inappropriate and within his rights as a president conducting foreign policy, while raising questions about the testimony of several witnesses and their knowledge of the president’s frame of mind during the events at the center of the inquiry.
Here are some of the key players to watch in this next phase of the impeachment inquiry, and what to expect from them on Wednesday.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, House Intelligence Committee Chairman
The California Democrat, a former prosecutor, has been known to use his opening and closing statements in these public hearings to tell the story of his panel’s investigations, and how the witnesses fit into that bigger picture.
An aide working on the inquiry said the chairman, who writes his own opening statements, “hopes to lay out the scope of what we have been looking at for the past month and a half,” while laying out “the stakes for the American people, and why this matters.”
Republicans will surely be listening closely as well: They have repeatedly criticized Schiff for the opening statement he delivered at the committee’s public hearing featuring acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, when he summarized in something of a parody what he termed “the essence” of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president “in not so many words.” (Trump has repeatedly accused him of fabricating his account of the call, and Republicans unsuccessfully tried to censure the chairman on the House floor.)
As the leader of the panel, Schiff will also play the role of traffic cop – formally gaveling the hearing in and out of session, deciding on the number of rounds of questioning, and judging whether members’ questions are appropriate. (In a memo to committee members, Schiff said he would “do my utmost during the hearings to safeguard the rights of the witnesses and all Members of the Committee,” in keeping with House rules.)
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member
In public comments and private depositions Rep. Devin Nunes, a staunch defender of the president, has slammed Democrats for using the intelligence panel to conduct an impeachment inquiry, and accused them over working to “overturn” the results of the 2016 election by investigating Trump’s actions.
“Every one of their actions, from the staff they hire to the Trump conspiracy theories they investigate, their willful neglect of our basic oversight duties demonstrates this has been their plan from day one,” he said on the House floor as the chamber voted on a resolution authorizing public hearings. “Now they’ve decided that they don’t like the way he talks to foreign leaders.”
He has likened Democrats to a “cult,” calling them “a group of people loyally following their leader as he bounces from one outlandish conspiracy theory to another,” while referring to journalists who have reported on the impeachment inquiry as “cult followers.”
Nunes, along with other Republicans on the panel, could also continue to raise questions about the activities of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, while he served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
The younger Biden is one of several witnesses Republicans have requested Democrats bring to testify in the impeachment investigation, along with the whistleblower behind the initial complaint about Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, House Oversight Committee Ranking Member
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee and one of Trump’s fiercest defenders, has been temporarily moved to the House Intelligence Committee for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry.
An aggressive and energetic questioner -- and a law school graduate -- Jordan has railed against Democrats’ handling of the impeachment investigation, accusing them of denying the president due process in the inquiry.
(Democrats said the president, who has instructed the White House not to cooperate with the investigation, will be represented in the House Judiciary Committee’s hearings on any articles of impeachment.)
Because he is not the top Republican on the committee, Jordan will only be able to question witnesses for five minutes at a time. But it’s possible that other members of the committee will cede their questioning time to Jordan, who has actively participated in the 16 closed-door impeachment interviews the House has conducted this fall.
Committee staff and attorneys
Under Democrats’ rules outlining the public phase of the impeachment process, Schiff and Nunes will have the ability, along with designated staff, to question the witnesses for up to 45 minutes each at the beginning of the hearings.
In the closed-door depositions, Democrats have relied on Daniel Goldman, a senior adviser and director of investigations for the House Intelligence Committee, along with Daniel Noble, a senior investigative counsel for the panel, to lead their questioning.
Goldman, who was hired last spring, is a former federal prosecutor in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, with extensive experience investigating mobsters and white-collar criminals.
A former legal analyst for MSNBC, Goldman also has experience distilling and translating legal and congressional proceedings for a larger audience – one of Democrats’ stated goals in the public, televised impeachment proceedings.
Republicans are expected to lean heavily on Steve Castor, the chief investigative counsel for House Oversight Committee Republicans. A leading Republican investigator, Castor has served on the top investigative panel in the House since 2005, and is a veteran of numerous GOP-led investigations from his time in the majority. Though the House Intelligence Committee has led the impeachment effort, he has conducted the bulk of staff questioning for the minority behind closed doors.