As public hearings loom, Pence aide meets with U.S. House committees


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. congressional committees conducting an impeachment probe of President Donald Trump met on Thursday for the first time with an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, one of the last witnesses to testify behind closed doors before public hearings start next week.

Jennifer Williams, special adviser for Europe and Russia in the Office of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrives on Capitol Hill for a closed-door hearing in Washington, U.S., November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer and special adviser to Pence for Europe and Russia, arrived at the U.S. Capitol to testify in front of members of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees after receiving a subpoena to compel her testimony.

Lawmakers will seek information from Williams about how much Pence knew about efforts by Trump and those around him to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Several other U.S. officials from the executive branch have defied calls to testify this week, ratcheting up tensions between House Democrats and Trump’s Republicans over the probe.

Former national security adviser John Bolton, who was fired by Trump in September, was called to appear on Thursday but failed to do so. Bolton’s attorney said he would not testify voluntarily and he has not yet been subpoenaed.

Trump and his backers blast the House inquiry as a witch hunt and accuse Democrats of unfairly targeting him in hope of reversing his surprise election victory in 2016. In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump called the probe a “phony scam.”

The House investigation is focused on a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, a leading Democratic rival as Trump seeks re-election in November 2020.

They are trying to determine whether Trump froze $391 million in U.S. security assistance for Ukraine to put pressure on Zelenskiy to conduct the investigation, misusing U.S. foreign policy for his personal gain.

Democrats have been releasing transcripts of previous closed-door interviews this week as they prepare the first public hearings next week in the six-week-long probe. [L2N27M0BD]

“Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves, to make their own determinations about the credibility of the witnesses, but also to learn firsthand about the facts of the president’s misconduct,” the intelligence committee’s Democratic chairman, Adam Schiff, said on Wednesday.

Three U.S. diplomats who expressed alarm about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and have already testified in private will serve as star witnesses.

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, another career diplomat with experience in the country, will testify on Nov. 13. Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly pulled from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May, will testify on Nov. 15.

Setting the stage for the public hearings, lawmakers have been making public transcripts of the closed-door depositions. Yovanovitch’s testimony was released on Monday and Taylor’s on Wednesday. Sources familiar with the investigation said Kent’s transcript would be made public on Thursday.

If the Democratic-controlled House votes to impeach Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove him from office.

Senate Republicans have so far shown little appetite for ousting the president.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Peter Cooney and Alistair Bell



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