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Impeachment Inquiry Is About To Get Much More Public


The impeachment inquiry is about to get a lot more public. Open televised hearings begin next week, and one of the first witnesses will likely be William Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, one of those who has said there was a quid pro quo. That is the issue, of course, looming over President Trump's July phone call with Ukraine's president. And there's new reporting now that Trump wanted his Attorney General William Barr to go on TV and say that Trump didn't do anything illegal in that call.

Let's begin our coverage with NPR Washington reporter Tim Mak. Hi there, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

GREENE: OK, let's start with these reports first in The Washington Post that Trump wanted Barr to make clear to the public that he didn't do anything bad in that phone call. What do we know here?

MAK: Yeah. President Trump passed along word through his staff that he wanted Barr to go on television declaring that he had broken no laws. That's, of course, in reference to a phone call in which the president pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival. Barr ultimately declined to do so. That's according to The Washington Post and The New York Times. The Post goes on to say that Trump has told associates in recent weeks that he wished that Barr did hold that press conference to clear or absolve him. Trump fired back in a tweet at 12:08 a.m., writing that it was a, quote, "totally untrue and just another fake news story with anonymous sources that don't exist."

It's worth noting, however, that the Justice Department did put out a statement that there was no action needed based on the record of that now-famous July 25 phone call. And it's also worth mentioning that Trump continues to praise Barr both publicly and privately.

GREENE: All right. Well, meanwhile, we're learning that William Taylor will be among these first witnesses testifying next week in public. He's already testified behind closed doors. What have we learned so far from him?

MAK: Yeah, the transcript was released by the House Intelligence Committee yesterday afternoon. His deposition has some revealing highlights, including that he said it was his, quote, "clear understanding" that there was a quid pro quo. And secondly, Taylor says that he believes that the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was behind the idea of having this leverage over the Ukrainian government.

GREENE: So can you tell me what Democrats are kind of thinking here strategically, Tim? I mean, they release all these long transcripts of these hearings that have already taken place behind closed doors leading up to what will be more hearings in public. What's the strategy?

MAK: Well, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has kind of explained that he wants to establish some groundwork that used these closed-door depositions as a fact-finding step ahead of these open hearings, where witnesses will have their credibility evaluated by lawmakers and the public at large. The House Intelligence Committee will be bringing its investigation into the public with televised open hearings next week. William Taylor, who we've mentioned, and U.S. diplomat George Kent will testify on Wednesday. And former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will testify on Friday.

GREENE: A lot to cover. NPR's Tim Mak. Tim, thanks so much.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.