WASHINGTON (AFP) - House Democrats unveiled plans on Tuesday (Oct 29) to open up the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump, allowing public hearings that the US president can join as they build a case for removing him from office.
After five weeks taking closed testimony on allegations Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to help his own political prospects, Democrats proposed legislation for the next stages of the process, giving Republicans the right to call witnesses and subpoena records.
The House Intelligence Committee will then govern the process of firming up evidence from testimony and documents, with both sides equally able to question witnesses in a public setting.
The third stage will see the evidence against Trump forwarded to the Judiciary Committee to draw up articles of impeachment, then to be voted on by the entire House.
The rules give Trump and his lawyers their first opportunity to take a direct role and argue their case before Judiciary, calling for more testimony or evidence and cross-examining witnesses, the House Rules Committee said.
However, it added, if the White House rejects, as it has done so far, subpoenas for testimony and documents from the probe, it could be denied some of the promised role in the hearings.
The new rules are slated to be voted on by the majority-Democratic House on Thursday, elevating the threat against Trump.
"The House impeachment inquiry has collected extensive evidence and testimony, and soon the American people will hear from witnesses in an open setting," senior House Democrats said in a statement.
"The evidence we have already collected paints the picture of a president who abused his power by using multiple levers of government to press a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election," they added.
"Following in the footsteps of previous impeachment inquiries, the next phase will move from closed depositions to open hearings where the American people will learn firsthand about the president's misconduct."
The impeachment plan was released as a senior White House national security official presented damning testimony against Trump behind closed doors in Congress on Tuesday.
National Security Council Ukraine expert Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman said in prepared testimony he had personally witnessed a senior US diplomat pressure Ukraine to open investigations designed to help Trump politically.
And he was listening when, in a July 25 phone call, Trump did the same with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.