Trump impeachment inquiry: Star witnesses lined up for first televised hearings

6 November 2019, 22:38 | Updated: 7 November 2019, 09:09

Three diplomats who expressed concern about Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine will serve as star witnesses when the first public hearings of the president's impeachment inquiry are aired on TV next week.

The Democrats won a key vote in the House of Representatives last week to hold public hearings, which will focus even more eyes and ears on the impeachment process when they get under way.

Pressure on the president is already ramping up following the release of various transcripts of verbal evidence given to the investigation so far, including from former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

She will testify on 15 November, while two other diplomats with experience in Ukraine, William Taylor and George Kent, will give evidence on 13 November.

It is expected the hearings will be a prelude to a House vote on whether to bring charges against Mr Trump, who has been accused of abusing his power by asking a foreign leader to investigate Joe Biden.

The phone call between Mr Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy was flagged up by a whilstleblower who the president has demanded "must come forward".

Some of his allies have refused to cooperate with proceedings, including Charles Kupperman - the former deputy national security adviser at the White House.

Democrats, however, are confident they have enough material to move forward with public hearings.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said: "We are getting an increasing appreciation for just what took place during the course of the last year and the degree to which the president enlisted whole departments of government in the illicit aim of trying to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political opponent."

The Democrats will be hoping the televised hearings get plenty of attention, with the three diplomats set to appear having provided some of the most damaging testimony of the inquiry so far.

Mr Taylor has claimed the president told his Ukrainian counterpart that the release of nearly $400m in security aid was contingent on a public declaration that Kiev would investigate baseless corruption allegations against Mr Biden.

The allegations focused on Mr Biden and Burisma, a gas firm the Democrat's son Hunter was involved with, and were said to have been pursued to give Mr Trump a leg-up in the 2020 election battle.

Former vice president Mr Biden is the favourite to be nominated to take on Mr Trump for the Democrats.

Ms Yovanovitch has provided similarly explosive evidence, telling congressional investigators that a senior Ukrainian official urged her to "watch my back" amid efforts by allies of Mr Trump to discredit her.

She also drew a link between Mr Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who last month were arrested over claims they broke election campaign finance laws.

Ms Yovanovitch understood they were looking to expand their business interests in Ukraine "and that they needed a better ambassador to sort of facilitate their business efforts here".

Mr Trump has repeatedly belittled the impeachment inquiry and on Wednesday tweeted to label it a "phony scam".

But even if the hearings do lead the House of Representatives to vote for an impeachment trial, it remains unlikely that it would be signed off by the Republican-controlled Senate.