WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has long criticized Democrats for conducting the impeachment inquiry behind closed doors. This week, he and his advisers are bracing for impact as those doors are thrown open and the cameras roll on the first public presidential impeachment hearings in over 20 years.
As the hearings on Wednesday have approached, Trump’s mood has veered between relishing the fight and seething with anger as he focuses heavily on his television defenders, according to one person close to the White House.
The White House has been coordinating with House Republicans on a strategy for the hearings in hopes of distancing the president from the witnesses, arguing that none of those testifying had direct knowledge of the president’s thinking, and of blocking any witnesses who would have had direct conversations with the president, such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, from testifying.
Meanwhile, even as the president takes on a string of counterprogramming events that may keep him from reacting to the public hearings in real time, his re-election campaign plans to have a swarm of staffers monitoring the proceedings to help coordinate pushback.
The scheduled testimony that begins Wednesday with that of two career diplomats — William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs — is expected to paint a picture of a shadow diplomacy being run by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
It is also expected to draw a fairly direct line between the withholding of security aid to Ukraine and the president’s desire to have it investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, or at least to publicly announce the launch of such a probe.
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While transcripts of previous closed-door testimony featuring those witnesses, as well as testimony from Friday’s scheduled witness — former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — have already been released, the impact of live, televised hearings remains unclear.
On Wednesday, as the first witnesses are scheduled to begin testifying, Trump will hold a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House followed by a news conference — largely keeping him away from Twitter and the live play-by-play for a significant stretch of the day.
The meeting itself could also stir up its own controversy. Bipartisan members of Congress had called for Trump to disinvite Erdogan to the White House after a Turkish assault on Syrian Kurds, and are considering stricter sanctions on Turkey.
On Thursday evening, before the second day of testimony, Trump will hold a rally in Louisiana before the state’s runoff election for governor on Saturday, providing an uninterrupted opportunity to counterpunch.
Stepping in to assist the White House defense this week will be Trump’s re-election campaign, which plans to have nearly 20 staffers monitoring every word, and every potential viral moment, of the hearings from a screen-filled corner of its Virginia headquarters. The campaign has already prepared many of the talking points they hope will bolster the president’s repeated message that the controversial July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was “perfect.”
The campaign is also staffing up its press team ahead of the hearings, adding a new deputy communications director, Ali Pardo, who has years of Hill experience.
Campaign aides also say they expect a fundraising boom for the president’s re-election effort — much as they experienced surrounding major milestones in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and in the days after the impeachment inquiry was first announced.
Republican talking points for Wednesday’s hearing, which circulated Monday night among members of the House committees conducting the Ukraine investigation, showed lawmakers planning to narrow the focus to Trump’s summer call with Zelenskiy, which they will argue included no solid evidence of conditionality or pressure.
They will also argue that the security funds were eventually released without Ukraine publicly stating it would investigate the Bidens — though that funding only got the green light after the whistleblower’s complaint was known within the administration, and pressure was put on the White House by members of Congress.
House Republicans have looked to create an additional diversion by way of a list of witnesses that would include both the whistleblower and Hunter Biden, as well as several other individuals not directly involved in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, but related to tangential controversies or favored Trump theories to which Republicans would like to shift the focus.
The president’s television defenders will continue to press the idea that the process has been unfair and argue that Democrats are focusing on impeachment at the expense of other legislative priorities, said an administration official.
“I think it is kind of hard to say this is what you are pursuing instead of lowering my drug prices, instead of getting legislation done to help our infrastructure, instead of passing trade deals,” Marc Short, chief of staff to the vice president, said on Fox Business Network Tuesday morning.
CORRECTION (Nov. 13, 2019, 2:30 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Fox Business Network as Fox Business News.