Capitol Report: Schiff calls American presidency at stake as public impeachment hearings kick off

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff delivers an opening statement Wednesday during the first public hearing held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Warning that the presidency is at stake, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff kicked off the first open impeachment hearings Wednesday, marking a new and dramatic phase of the probe into alleged wrongdoing by Donald Trump.

“There are few actions as consequential as the impeachment of a president,” said Schiff, a California Democrat, in an opening statement. “While the Founders did not intend that impeachment be employed for mere differences over policy, they also made impeachment a constitutional process that the Congress must utilize when necessary.”

Schiff spoke before testimony from two witnesses: the U.S.’s acting ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, and George Kent, a senior State Department official.

As Democrats investigate whether Trump abused his power by withholding aid to Ukraine to pressure that country, the U.S. president has denied wrongdoing and furiously attacked Democrats and public officials. On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, “Never Trumpers!” That’s a label he’s applied to Taylor and other officials despite lack of evidence of any political bias.

Trump has described as “perfect” a July 25 phone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. He again Wednesday urged his Twitter followers to read what the White House calls a transcript of the call — which is not a verbatim document. (See summary of Trump-Zelensky call as released by the White House.)

Taylor has testified that Trump made military aid contingent on Zelensky’s announcing probes into former Vice President Biden and his son and 2016 election interference, which the U.S. intelligence community has attributed to Russian state actors.

The hearings come a week before Biden and other Democratic White House hopefuls meet for their next debate. With the 2020 campaign intensifying and the first public impeachment hearings getting underway, polls showed more than half of Americans supported beginning the impeachment process — but under half supported Trump’s impeachment and removal.

The impeachment hearings were competing for investors’ attention on Wednesday with a Capitol Hill appearance by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

U.S. stocks SPX, +0.01% DJIA, +0.04% were down modestly at midmorning as the hearings began. Powell’s testimony is scheduled for 11 a.m. Eastern time.

Wednesday’s impeachment hearing is expected to last most of the day. On Friday, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is scheduled to testify, and she is expected to describe the effort to oust her from her post.

An impeachment vote is expected in the Democratic-led House next month, with a Senate trial to follow, likely in January. The Republicans who control the Senate, however, are not considered likely to back removing Trump.

Also see: Mulvaney won’t sue over impeachment inquiry, will instead refuse to cooperate.

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