By Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju, CNN
House impeachment investigators on Friday morning will hear publicly from the ousted US ambassador to Ukraine, whose removal Democrats say marks the start of the shadow diplomacy campaign that sparked their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and Ukraine.
Then in the afternoon, the US diplomat who overheard a July phone call where President Donald Trump asked the US Ambassador to the European Union about the Ukraine investigations will testify behind closed doors, after the top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor revealed the call in his testimony Wednesday.
Friday’s hearing with former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch marks a second day of public impeachment hearings with a twist: the closed-door testimony of the Taylor aide, David Holmes, could offer Democrats tantalizing new evidence that connects Trump more directly to the push for Ukraine to open investigations that would benefit him politically.
Taylor testified Wednesday that his aide told him about the phone call between Trump and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland after his closed-door deposition last month. On the call, Taylor said, Trump asked Sondland about the investigations, and Sondland “told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.”
Holmes gives Democrats a witness who overheard Trump talking directly to Sondland, which could help Democrats push back against the GOP criticisms that the impeachment case is based on hearsay and second-hand information.
Yovanovitch’s testimony does not center on the push for investigation or the freezing of $400 million in US security aid to Ukraine. But Democrats say her ouster, which Trump directed following a smear campaign from Giuliani and his associates, set the stage for the push for Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals, according to Democratic aides.
“Removing Ambassador Yovanovitch is bigger than just Ambassador Yovanovitch. It represents a President abusing his office to remove an ambassador to clear the decks to run a corrupt shakedown scheme,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Yovanovitch is expected to detail the efforts by Giuliani to smear her, as well as knock down the conspiracy theories he was pushing about her and Ukraine.
But Republicans plan to argue that Trump was well within his rights to recall Yovanovitch from her post, saying the President has the power to appoint and remove ambassadors as he wishes. They also plan to make clear that after she left her position in May, she had no direct knowledge of the central issues at stake in the impeachment inquiry, according to a Republican source involved in the planning.