Friday 6 December 2019

Explained: How today's open impeachment hearing into Donald Trump will work

US President Donald Trump. Photo: Getty
US President Donald Trump. Photo: Getty

Susan Cornwell

When millions of Americans watch the first televised hearing in the impeachment inquiry into US President Donald Trump today, they will see a different procedure from that usually used for congressional committee hearings.

The Democratic-run US House of Representatives approved a resolution on October 31 laying out the procedures guiding the inquiry, including details on who can ask questions of witnesses and time limits for questioning. Here are some facts about the process:

Questioning of witnesses

The public hearings are being held by the House Intelligence Committee. The panel's chairman, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, will run the show.

So far, Mr Schiff has announced two open hearings for today and Friday. More may follow.

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House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff is leading the impeachment probe (Susan Walsh/AP)
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff is leading the impeachment probe (Susan Walsh/AP)

When Schiff opens the first session today, he and the panel's senior Republican, Devin Nunes, are likely to make opening statements and allow the witnesses, US diplomats William Taylor and George Kent, to do the same.

Then questioning of the witnesses begins. House-approved rules allow Mr Schiff and Mr Nunes to conduct multiple 90-minute rounds of questioning, alternating every 45 minutes.

They are likely to give at least part of their time to committee lawyers who have conducted much of the questioning to date in hearings behind closed doors.

Once these rounds of questioning are finished, the committee will return to the usual House committee hearing format, with each lawmaker getting five minutes of questioning, alternating between parties.

Why is this different from normal hearing procedures?

Starting with 45-minute segments will allow each side to develop a narrative that would be more difficult to build in the usual five-minute format. The five-minute limit can be frustrating when witnesses are argumentative and lawmakers do not have time to follow up.

This happened in a contentious September House Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Corey Lewandowski, who ran Mr Trump's campaign for part of 2016. Mr Lewandowski argued with the panel's chairman, Representative Jerry Nadler, and Republicans and Democrats then argued over whether Mr Nadler had used up his questioning time.

Corey Lewandowski was Donald Trump’s former campaign manager (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Corey Lewandowski was Donald Trump’s former campaign manager (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

What happens next?

There may be other public hearings of the Intelligence Committee. Once public hearings end, the committee, along with the two others which took part in the private hearings, are expected to report on their findings.

This report will be sent to the Judiciary Committee, which is expected to hold its own hearings, while deciding whether to draft articles of impeachment. Mr Trump or his attorney would be allowed to participate in the Judiciary Committee hearings.

This image from House TV shows the floor of the US House of Representatives in Washington and the vote count (House TV via AP)
This image from House TV shows the floor of the US House of Representatives in Washington and the vote count (House TV via AP)

Any articles of impeachment would be sent to the full House for a vote, which could happen by the end of the year. Any trial would take place in the Senate, which is controlled by Mr Trump's Republican Party.

Irish Independent

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