WASHINGTON, DC – The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Friday that the panels investigating impeachment could begin releasing transcripts of closed-door witness depositions early next week, part of an effort to move the investigation into public view and allow Americans to evaluate the evidence against President Donald Trump.
Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment probe, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the committee will begin releasing the transcripts as it continues to depose additional witnesses and prepare for public hearings. He said the three panels conducting the impeachment inquiry have "a number of further depositions" to conduct, depending on which witnesses show up and cooperate.
Though public hearings on impeachment are expected to begin this month, Schiff said it is "hard to know" how much longer the depositions will take. He said it's possible that the closed-door interviews will continue even after the hearings start, though the panels only have so many staff who can take testimony at once.
Impeachment investigators have already heard testimony from a series of current and former administration officials about Trump's handling of Ukraine. They have testified about Trump's repeated efforts to have Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden and the Democrats, and about the administration's decision over the summer to withhold military assistance to the country.
At least nine witnesses are tentatively scheduled to testify next week, according to people familiar with the schedule. Among them is former national security adviser John Bolton, who is said to have been concerned about the role that Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was playing in Ukraine.
It is unclear how many of the witnesses will appear. The people requested anonymity to discuss the confidential depositions.
Schiff said he hopes Bolton will show up.
"Without a doubt in light of the testimony of other witnesses, John Bolton has very important information about the president's misconduct that the American people should hear," Schiff said.
The committees have invited Bolton to appear Thursday but not yet issued a subpoena for his testimony. His lawyer has said he will not appear without one.
When the public hearings begin, Schiff said he hopes the testimony will show "what the president did, why his misconduct is so serious" and how the "machinery of government" was pressed to help Trump influence the 2020 election.
A resolution passed by the House on Thursday will allow Democrats to conduct the impeachment hearings with up to 90 minutes of questioning by Schiff or his staff. Though the top Republican on the panel, California Rep. Devin Nunes, and his staff will have a similar opportunity to question witnesses, Republicans have criticized the format. They say the regular five-minute rounds of questioning that are granted to other lawmakers will come too late in the hearings.
Schiff said Democrats have heard public feedback that the five-minute rounds can make it difficult to maintain a line of questioning. He said the committees are attempting to replicate the questioning in closed-door depositions, which is mostly led by staff.
He said that questioning can "ensure that these witnesses can provide a coherent narrative about what they saw, what they did and what it means in terms of the president's misconduct."
Not a single Republican voted for the resolution establishing the impeachment procedures, and GOP leaders said it did not give them enough rights as the process moves forward. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy praised his party for sticking together and said Democrats are trying to impeach Trump because they are worried they cannot defeat him in the 2020 election.
"There's nothing the president did to be impeached," McCarthy said.
Schiff said Republicans are afraid of crossing the president.
"I think it's a vote that they will come to regret over time," he said. "And I think when their children and grandchildren ask them what they did to stand up to this deeply unethical man in the Oval Office, they will have a hard time explaining why they chose to defend him."