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House Democratic leaders. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Three key witnesses in the House Democrats' impeachment inquiry will testify this week in a series of nationally televised hearings that Democrats are hoping will shock Americans enough to convince them that President Trump must be removed from office.

Why it matters: This public phase of impeachment is arguably the most important part of Democrats' efforts so far, as public sentiment will determine how this plays out.

What to expect: First up on Wednesday is the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor, whose explosive closed-door testimony last month has been described by many Democrats as the most damaging to Trump.

  • State Department official George Kent will also appear on Wednesday. The committee will interview former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on Friday.
  • The public hearings will begin with roughly 45 minutes of questioning from Intelligence staff, followed by questions from committee members.
  • Sources familiar with the layout of the hearings say they were deliberately organized to ensure the substance of their testimony is heard at the top.

Democratic House aides told Axios that House Intel chair Adam Schiff chose to present Taylor, Kent and Yovanovitch first because they believe each has "unimpeachable character," as one aide described it, and are apolitical career officials.

  • "You've got to have a blockbuster opener and closer. That's why we went with Taylor and Kent," a second aide said.
  • "Yovanovitch was the first victim of the president's scheme with Giuliani,” the aide added. That draws the "sympathy of the audience."

Schiff's team has asked Democratic members not to share any information about their preparations ahead of the hearings.

  • Schiff himself will be laying low and will not do any media before Wednesday, one aide said.
  • And while a lot of their prep is being spent on how to counter and preempt Republicans' "theatrics," Schiff has directed members and staffers to be "serious as f--k," as the aide described it, and advised them to treat the hearings as a somber moment in American history.

Behind the scenes: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not happy with how House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler — who, according to House rules, will eventually have to take ownership of the impeachment fight — handled the Russia hearings, particularly Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s hearing, two Democratic sources familiar with her thinking tell Axios.

  • She thought Nadler lost control of the hearing and let it devolve into confusion.
  • This is why she has kept Schiff in charge and has commandeered the impeachment process behind the scenes.
  • This has also led to talk of lending Intelligence Committee staff to the Judiciary Committee when the inquiry ultimately lands there, the sources said.

What's next: More public hearings will follow. One of the aides said they hadn’t settled on week two witnesses yet, but thought Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a decorated military officer and the NSC's director of European Affairs, would be a natural closer.

  • "He'd come in his dress blues — how powerful would that be?" the aide said.

Go deeper: Inside Republicans' defense strategy for impeachment

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
12 mins ago - Economy & Business

Warren Buffett resigns from Gates Foundation board

Buffett and Bill Gates in 2015. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — the second-largest philanthropy in the world — is now governed by just two trustees, after Warren Buffett announced on Wednesday that he had resigned his position there.

Why it matters: The two remaining trustees, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates, are going through a divorce.

Updated 32 mins ago - World

Russia says it fired warning shots at British destroyer in Black Sea

The HMS Defender in the port of Odessa on Ukraine's Black Sea coast on June 18. Photo: Konstantin Sazonchik\TASS via Getty Images

Russia's defense ministry claimed Wednesday that a Russian warship and fighter jet fired "warning" shots at the British Royal Navy’s HMS Defender destroyer for encroaching on waters near Crimea in the Black Sea.

The latest: The U.K.'s ministry of defense disputed that any warning shots were fired, saying in a statement, "We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity."

Mike Allen, author of AM
Updated 57 mins ago - Politics & Policy

First look: WaPo Trump book's secret title revealed

Cover: Penguin Press

The Washington Post's Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker will be out July 20 with "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year," Penguin Press announced.

Breaking: Axios has learned that The Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender is moving "Frankly, We Did Win the Election" up to July 20, matching Leonnig-Rucker, from his earlier pub date of Aug. 10.