WASHINGTON — For weeks, the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has been happening almost entirely behind closed doors, leaving a confused American public to follow an incredibly complex investigation largely through reporting on leaks and vague comments from members of Congress.
That is all about to change. The impeachment inquiry is coming soon to a television near you, a move House Democrats told BuzzFeed News they hope will shut down Republican complaints about secrecy and help shape public opinion as the 2020 election draws nearer.
“We’ve had very compelling testimony from a number of the witnesses so far, and in some ways, all of them would make compelling public witnesses, the ones that I have heard,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Foreign Affairs committee member. “We’re going to have to make some choices in the end [but] think it’ll be very important for the American people to see everything that we are seeing and they will.”
Witnesses have been testifying nearly every day, and Democrats have been moving “expeditiously” — their favorite descriptor — to wrap up their impeachment investigation in the month since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her support for the formal inquiry. But the public hasn’t seen hardly any of it so far.
No one can say yet when public hearings will start, but with Democrats aiming for a full floor vote impeaching Trump by the end of the year, they’d have to begin soon.
“There are still a number of depositions that we have scheduled and that we would like to complete,” Malinowski said. “I don’t think it should take that much longer. I know that’s not totally helpful to you, but I’m not just withholding things, but you know, it’s not like we have decided on this date.”
And at least some members believe they should be held in primetime. "Do it in primetime, so that the majority of Americans can be home watching it — even though most people don't get their news from TV anymore,” Rep. Kathleen Rice, a former prosecutor, told BuzzFeed News. “But I think it's critically important, first of all, for the fact finders to find the facts as they see them, as they're presented to them, and then let the public see, because ultimately the public has a right to make a determination as to what they think happened."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday morning that he also hoped public hearings would tamp down Republican complaints about the process.
“Our Republican colleagues continue to say these are secret hearings,” Hoyer said. “They are certainly not open hearings; however, every member of the committee who’s a Republican is there, every member has a right to ask questions and time is equally divided between the two parties. I don’t know where they’re getting the secrecy stuff.”
Some Democrats have said they believe members should not be the ones asking questions in public hearings. Instead, as Rice has been pushing for, they want lawyers with relevant experience in charge of the questioning.
“I would not send a civil lawyer in to try a murder case,” Rice said. “There is a very specific process here [and] professional lawyers to know how to ask questions, know how to follow up with questions, know how to cross-examine witnesses who may be trying to hide the truth. I mean this is a really serious thing. And this is to take nothing away from the skill of my colleagues who may be lawyers and may have prosecutorial backgrounds, but I think it's also important for the public to see that this is not a political issue.”
Like Hoyer, Rice said she hopes public hearings will end some of the complaints from Trump and his allies about how the investigation has been handled so far, though the process, she reiterated, has been standard.
“These people … are trying to make the public feel that there's something untoward going on here,” she said, “[but] this is the way things are done. I think deep down anyone who's watched Law & Order understands — and I don't know one American who doesn't watch Law & Order.”