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Democrats plan to vote on opening up secret impeachment inquiry (2nd Lead)



New York, Oct. Oct 29 (IANS) Democrats are planning to vote on holding the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump in public, ripping aside the shroud of secrecy that he and the Republicans have complained about.

After resisting holding public hearings, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a turn around, announced on Monday that the House of Representatives will vote this week on a resolution "for hearings that are open to the American people".

Reacting to Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, tweeted: "Today’s backtracking is an admission that this process has been botched from the start."

So far, the Democrats, who control the House, have refused to formalise the impeachment inquiry which is being conducted by three committees in secret. And Trump and Republicans have used that as an excuse to provide documents or allow officials to testify.

Although officially secret, the Democrats control the narrative of the inquiry by selectively leaking parts of the testimony before the committees.

Republican Representative Mark Meadows tweeted after Pelosi’s announcement: "House Democrats now suddenly saying they’ll vote on an impeachment resolution to ‘ensure transparency’ is rich – considering they’ve spent weeks conducting interviews in secret, leaking their own talking points while locking down any and all information that benefits the President."

In a letter to the House Democrats, Pelosi wrote that the open proceedings would also give "due process rights for the President and his Counsel".

A vote is expected on Thursday.

Trump, who has denounced the impeachment inquiry as a "witch hunt", has complained that the secret hearings were being held improperly and that they were not sanctioned by House.

A court had undercut this excuse last week declaring that the probe could take place without full House vote and ordered the Trump administration to cooperate.

Pelosi wrote that resolution will give the impeachment investigation and the demands for documents and testimony a HOuse affirmation.

The resolution authorising the public hearings could impede appeals to higher courts by Trump that could delay impeachment.

"We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorised subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives," she said.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said that Pelosi’s decision to seek the vote was an admission that "Democrats were conducting an unauthorized impeachment proceeding, refusing to give the president due process".

About 30 Republican lawmakers barged into the underground chamber where the hearings are held last week demanding that the inquiry be held in the open and held up the proceedings for several hours by refusing to leave.

Republicans introduced a resolution in the Senate last week to condemn the impeachment proceedings in the House and how they are being conducted.

Impeachment is the equivalent of framing a chargesheet known as the Articles of Impeachment that will have to be approved by the House. It will then be sent to the Republican-controlled Senate where a formal trial will be held and the body will vote whether or not to convict the president and remove him from office.

The inquiry to prepare for the impeachment began 34 days ago when House committees started hearings summoning officials and others to testify and demanding documents.

Democrats have accused Trump of misusing his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate the dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who was involved with a gas company there.

Trump is alleged to have withheld military aid to Ukraine in order to force it to comply.

According to the Democrats, this amounts to seeking foreign interference in US elections because Joe Biden is seeking the party’s nomination to run against Trump next year, and misuse of presidential authority.

The impeachment probe was launched on a complaint by an intelligence officer at the White House who claimed that he had heard from someone that Trump made the request to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call on July 25.

Zelensky has denied that he was pressured and Trump that he had made reinstating an inquiry into Hunter’s dealings a condition for releasing the aid.

Hunter Biden, who was removed from the navy because of alleged drug abuse, was hired by the Ukrainian gas company Burisma and paid $50,000 a month even though he had no experience in energy or international business.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent reportedly told a hearing that he had expressed concerns with as official in the administration of former President Barack Obama in 2015 but was ignored.

A Ukrainian prosecutor looking into Burisma was fired under pressure from Joe Biden.

Trump has ordered administration officials not to testify before the impeachment inquiry. But some have defied him and gone before the committees.

According to RealClear Politics, the authoritative aggregator of polls, 51 per cent of Americans supported the impeachment inquiry, while 42 per cent were against it.

Democrats have wanted to avoid a vote on impeachment that would force their members to publicly take a stand on impeachment and may hurt some in constituencies where there is strong opposition to impeachment. Moreover, the secrecy let them control the leaks.

Although Republicans can claim a victory that they forced Pelosi to agree to public hearings, the open inquiry could also go against Trump’s interests in the year before the presidential elections depending on how it goes and what comes out.


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