WASHINGTON • Democrats in Congress, answering Republican complaints that their impeachment investigation of US President Donald Trump is being conducted in secret, plan a vote for tomorrow on how to formalise their inquiry, a significant new stage in the probe.
Mr Trump and his fellow Republicans have, for weeks, branded the work of committees probing Mr Trump's overtures to Ukraine as illegitimate, arguing that the full Democratic-led House of Representatives had failed to authorise its investigations in a public vote.
Meeting behind closed doors, the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have been looking into the possibility that Mr Trump violated federal law by seeking foreign help for his November 2020 re-election efforts.
House Rules Committee chairman James McGovern said on Monday: "I will be introducing a resolution to ensure transparency and provide a clear path forward."
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said that the legislation would establish a format for open hearings.
Several administration officials have failed to testify to House committees engaged in the probe.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to her fellow House Democrats the House will vote this week - tomorrow, according to a senior Democratic aide - on a resolution that spells out how future public hearings will be held.
Ms Pelosi promised to provide legal protections for Mr Trump.
A source familiar with the probe said the public hearings will be held by the Intelligence Committee and that the transcripts from closed depositions with witnesses will be made public.
Army Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told the inquiry he twice registered internal objections about how Mr Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine. He said in prepared testimony that the July call was just one of the instances he witnessed in which Trump administration officials conditioned aid to Ukraine on that country agreeing to investigate Mr Joe Biden.
A senior House Democratic aide said the hearings could begin within the next month.
The move will set the stage for House investigating committees to forward evidence they have collected to the House Judiciary Committee, which would then decide whether to advance articles of impeachment against Mr Trump.
Even if the House impeaches Mr Trump, he would face a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, which, for the moment, seems unlikely to convict the President and force his ouster.
Mr Charles Kupperman, a former deputy to ousted national security adviser John Bolton, failed to appear on Monday before the three House panels conducting the Ukraine phase of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, lawmakers said.
Mr Kupperman was expected to provide testimony about Mr Trump's dealings with Ukraine, brought to Congress' attention by a report from a whistle-blower about a July 25 phone call.
However, a White House national security official told House impeachment investigators yesterday that he heard Mr Trump appeal to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former US vice-president Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Army Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, told the inquiry he twice registered internal objections about how Mr Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine.
He said in prepared testimony that the July call was just one of the instances he witnessed in which Trump administration officials conditioned aid to Ukraine on that country agreeing to investigate Mr Biden.
Lt-Col Vindman's statement corroborates the complaint made by a whistle-blower in the intelligence community.
Mr Trump's request to Mr Zelensky that he investigate Mr Biden and his son Hunter Biden is the focus of the inquiry being conducted by the three panels.
Mr Trump made his request after withholding US$391 million (S$533 million) in security aid approved by the US Congress to help fight Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.