Two local congressmen will be front and center today as the first public impeachment hearings take place on Capitol Hill.
Congressmen Mike Turner and Jim Jordan are on the House Intelligence Committee, which is scheduled to open the public hearings on the impeachment inquiry today and Friday.
A third Ohio congressman, Brad Wenstrup is also on the panel.
Turner, R-Dayton, said he’ll be seeking “basic fairness” in the hearings, describing testimony given in private so far has been based on “opinion or second-hand or third-hand information.”
“I think getting to the bottom of the facts of this matter are going to be important. Adam Schiff, again, is starting with individuals who don’t have any direct knowledge of this matter. Our goal will be to bring those individuals forward who do have direct knowledge,” Turner said.
Congressman Schiff, a California Democrat, is the chair of the committee.
When asked if he would vote to impeach President Trump, Turner said, “I do not believe what the president did is okay. I’ve told the president directly that I think people of Ohio don’t want to hear the president on the phone talking to another president of another country about people who are his opponents. But I certainly haven’t seen anything that rises to the level of impeachment.”
On Nov. 8, Republican legislative leaders added Jordan, R-Urbana, to the committee, where he is expected to help question witnesses in the high-profile hearings. However, a procedural change means Schiff and Ranking Minority Member Devin Nunes will likely drive the lines of questioning.
This will mark the first time the public will hear testimony and questioning in the impeachment inquiry, which so far has been held in a closed-door, high-security room in the basement of the Capitol.
Witnesses today will be William Taylor, the top diplomat for the U.S. State Department in Ukraine, and George Kent, who is deputy assistant secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau for the U.S. Department of State. On Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, will testify.
Each of the three witnesses have already testified in closed sessions. Transcripts of testimony given so far have been released, and are available here.
Democrats aim to build a case that President Donald Trump withheld military aid and a visit to the White House to pressure Ukraine to investigate presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. A whistleblower’s complaint about a 30-minute call on July 25 between President Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky triggered the impeachment inquiry.
The unclassified, rough transcript of the July 25 call can be found here.
Republicans, who are calling it a “sham impeachment process,” are demanding that the committee call nine witnesses, including Hunter Biden, the anonymous whistleblower, political opposition researcher Nellie Ohr, former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker and former Democratic National Committee staffer Alexandra Chalupa.
Jordan said at a press conference: “They are trying to impeach the President of the United States less than 13 months before an election based on an anonymous whistleblower with no firsthand knowledge who has a bias against the president. It is reported that the whistleblower worked with Vice President Biden and on it goes. The American people see this for what it is because the American people are fair people, they are just people, they are people with common sense and they will not tolerate this.”
Meanwhile, the top Republican on the committee, Nunes, R-Calif., sent a letter to Committee Chairman Schiff that warned: “Your failure to fulfill Minority (party) witness requests shall constitute evidence of your denial of fundamental fairness and due process.”
Cincinnati-area Congressman Wenstrup, a U.S. Army Reserve colonel who served as a surgeon in Iraq, also views the hearings as an attempt by Democrats to find any reason to impeach Trump.
“The process so far seems to be focused more on opinions rather than facts,” said a statement from Wenstrup. “Democrats have not been focused on finding the truth, but rather on influencing public opinion toward a predetermined conclusion of impeachment.”
Wenstrup has also criticized Democrats for not calling in witnesses that Republicans would like to interview.
President Trump is pushing back against the inquiry, saying to his 66 million Twitter followers that his call with Zelensky was “perfect” and calling the hearings an “impeachment scam.”
Both sides of the battle will be trying to sway public opinion, which will be crucial to the outcome.
A recent poll of American voters conducted by Morning Consult/Politico found 47 percent support impeachment while 43 percent oppose it.
Two U.S. presidents — Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 — have been impeached and President Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 once the House Judiciary Committee sent articles of impeachment to the floor. No president has ever been convicted by the Senate and removed from office.
The House Intelligence Committee is expected to send its findings to the House Judiciary Committee, which would decide whether to pursue articles of impeachment against President Trump.
Local Congressman Steve Chabot, who represents Warren County and part of Hamilton County, sits on the Judiciary Committee as does Congressman Jordan.
If the House votes to impeach, the matter goes to the GOP-controlled Senate for a trial.
Jordan, who has been a strong defender of President Trump, sent out a fundraising email to supporters on Monday for his re-election campaign, saying he expected to be attacked for defending the president.
“As the Democrats continue to push impeachment and ignore the promises they made to the American people, my defense of the facts and support for the President will only grow louder,” he pledged in the email that asked for $25 donations to “stop the left from silencing me.”
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.
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