Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Starting today, Democrats will do everything they can to put the most damaging testimony against President Trump in front of the public — while Republicans try to put as much distance as possible between Trump and the efforts to pressure Ukraine.
Why it matters: The American public, which has largely been left out of the impeachment process so far, will get a front row seat to the fourth attempt in U.S. history to remove a president from office.
The Democratic point of view, per conversations with House Democratic aides working on the impeachment inquiry:
- Their goal is to have Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, and State Department official George Kent — both apolitical career officials — lay out what they see as Trump's abuse of presidential powers to force a foreign government to interfere in U.S. elections on his behalf.
- They will also argue that the witnesses make it clear that there was a quid pro quo, and that the actions carried out by Trump's top officials were not normal.
The bottom line: Democrats do not anticipate the Taylor or Kent to provide any new information that they haven't already described behind closed doors. However, they think it's imperative that the American people hear directly from the key figures involved in the Ukraine saga.
- "The onus now is on Republicans," one Democratic aide said. "They have to either provide exculpatory evidence — or explain to the American people why it’s okay for a President to use the power of his office to taint our elections in his favor."
House Republicans prepped from 1-3:30pm Tuesday in the Capitol, and went over questions members plan to ask.
- GOP leaders Kevin McCarthy and Liz Cheney, as well as Reps. Mark Meadows, Lee Zeldin and Scott Perry, attended in addition to all Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee (apart from Rep. Will Hurd).
The Republican point of view, per conversations with House GOP members and aides working on the impeachment inquiry:
- Republicans don't think the evidence the witnesses have provided thus far have drawn a clear line to Trump. They acknowledge that some administration officials may have acted shadily toward Ukraine, but the president himself is the one on the line, not them.
- "At the end of the day, this is not an impeachment of Rudy Giuliani, it's not an impeachment of Ambassador Sondland, it's an impeachment of the President of the United States," a Republican member on one of the impeachment investigating committees told Axios.
- "So the point is, as long as this is a step removed he's in good shape... if it's a step removed from the president he doesn't lose any Republicans in the House."
The GOP member conceded that Democrats are "leading with their very strongest witnesses, the ones whose reputations are the hardest to impugn, the ones whose depositions draw a closer connection than most would like."
- However, the member noted that this means it all gets worse for them after this week: "They've got to sell the story and have it shift public sentiment by high single digits in order for this to make a lasting impact."
Worth noting: The fact-finding phase of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry is still not over, despite the start of public hearings.
- The House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have scheduled closed-door depositions for David Holmes, an official working at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and Mark Sandy, an official working in the Office of Management and Budget, later this week, according to a schedule distributed to committee staff and reviewed by Axios.
Go deeper: Yesterday, we told you about a GOP memo we obtained highlighting House Republicans' impeachment talking points. Last night, Democrats released their own memo, a direct rebuttal pushing back on each point. Read it here.