What To Watch For During The Impeachment Hearings This Week

With 8 witnesses scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee this week, the level of impeachment related news is about to ramp up to a new level of intensity. This very well could be the most important week of the entire investigation for two reasons. First, it could be the last week of public testimony according to the schedule that has been released so far, and Schiff recently side-stepped a question about whether there would be further testimonies scheduled after this week. Second, given that Thanksgiving is coming up in less than two weeks, this round of testimonies will shape the dinner table conversations across the country. After all, Thanksgiving is traditionally a time when political discussions are hashed out with family members. Whoever has not already made up their mind about whether to support impeachment or not will likely have made up their mind by then or decided not to care at all. So the proximity of the testimonies that happen this week to the start of the holiday season could be the make or break moment for the entire impeachment regardless of any new information that might be revealed as we approach the end of the year. 

There will not be enough time in the day for most people in America to keep up with the analysis of each testimony, but there are some key things to look for as the week unfolds. Let’s take a look at each of the 8 people scheduled to give testimony and then go through a few broader trends and events to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, first panel at 9 a.m. ET

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman

Col. Vindman is the top Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council and therefore a major voice in the discussion regarding the impacts of the President’s statements to the Ukrainian President on American foreign policy. Importantly, Vindman listened in on the July 25 telephone conversation in the White House Situation Room. That means that he is a first-hand witness to the call, something that House Republicans have repeatedly demanded. Vindman reported his concerns about the call, specifically the president's mention of political investigations to the top NSC attorney, John Eisenberg. He will likely be asked about what was said during the call as well as the unusual steps that Eisenberg took to move the record of the call onto a highly classified system with restricted access.

Jennifer Williams

Jennifer Williams is a foreign service aide for Vice President Pence's office, and she listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian president Zelenskiy. That means she is also a first-hand witness, which House GOP leaders have been asking for vehemently. She will be the second witness to testify on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday, second panel at 2:30 p.m. ET

Kurt Volker

Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, who was one of the so-called "three amigos" who the president asked to handle Ukraine policy. The other amigos include Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. He was specifically requested to appear by Republican members of the Intelligence Committee, and his testimony is expected to be angled in such a way as to favor the president.

Tim Morrison

Morrison is a former National Security Council aide who heard the July 25 call. Unlike other witnesses, he told the committees in closed-door testimony that he didn't view the president's statements as illegal or inappropriate. Republicans say his testimony supports the president's position that there was nothing improper about the July 25 call, and his testimony is also expected to be favorable to the president.

Wednesday, first panel at 9 a.m. ET

Gordon Sondland

Sondland is perhaps the most highly anticipated official who will testify this week. A top donor to the president's inaugural committee (he donated $1 million dollars to Trump’s campaign before being made Ambassador to the EU), Sondland is well known for his support of the President. Sondland has recently faced intense scrutiny about his closed-door testimony after he sent the committee an amendment reversing his initial account and admitting that he told the Ukrainian president that the release of aid was contingent upon a public statement about investigations into the Bidens. That reversal signals that Sondland could flip on the president, or take the 5th amendment, which could be a devastating blow to the president’s defenders.

Wednesday, second panel at 2:30 p.m. ET

Laura Cooper

Cooper is a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department. In closed-door testimony, Cooper said that Ukrainians brought up the administration's delay of $391 million in security assistance in August, which means that they were aware of the delay at least by that point. She said that she spoke to Volker about it, at which point Volker indicated that he was working toward securing an announcement about election interference by Ukrainian officials. This implication is that a quid pro quo was in place and that the Ukrainians understood the nature of the deal.

David Hale

Hale is the undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department. He testified behind closed doors on Nov. 6, and Republicans asked for him to appear in the public hearings. His testimony will likely be favorable to the president, although his testimony may take cues from Sondland’s testimony the day before.

Thursday, one panel only at 9 a.m. ET

Fiona Hill

Hill is the last official who will testify and one of the most anticipated witnesses, perhaps second only to Sondland. Formerly the top Russia specialist on the National Security Council, Hill broke with Trump’s call for officials to refuse to testify. She testified last month that she voiced her concerns about the irregular foreign policy channel centered on Rudy Giuliani. She told investigators that she discussed her concerns with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, who said that Giuliani was "a hand grenade that is going to blow everybody up."

Final thoughts

As the above testimonies play out, one of the major trends to watch for is the republican response to first-hand accounts of the call. There will be an even balance of two witnesses who saw the call as problematic and two witnesses who did not see the call as problematic. What will matter most is how credible these various witnesses seem in the eyes of the American public, and House Republicans will likely do their best to skew the audience’s perception of the hearings in a direction that is favorable to the president.

Along those lines, it will be interesting to see how well the Democrats are able to control the House Republicans. Adam Schiff has so far done a good job enforcing the rules of the proceedings despite the House Republican’s antics, but after a week of practice, the Republicans may attempt new tactics to derail the hearings. If they can successfully disrupt the hearings, they could seriously affect the ability of the Democrats to make the case to the American people that the President committed an impeachment-worthy act.

Whatever happens, the outcome of the impeachment investigation will likely be determined by this week’s testimonies. If Sondland flips or invokes the 5th amendment, Trump could have a major problem on his hands. But if the House Republicans can successfully paint the hearings as farcical, there may not be much the Democrats can do to sway the American public no matter what the witness said.

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