With the announcement on Wednesday of the first three witnesses who will testify in televised impeachment hearings for Donald Trump next week, the House intelligence committee chairman, Adam Schiff, has revealed the next stage of the congressional strategy to investigate alleged abuses of power by the president.
The strategy will spotlight, at the outset, witnesses with compelling personal stories and long records of public service under presidents from both parties – the kind of non-ideological true believers in the American project that the country, pre-Trump, had been in the habit of admiring.
First to testify will be the seasoned ambassador who thought what he was seeing was “crazy”. Then the Ukraine specialist who warned about a US policy gone “wrong”. Then a career ambassador who was “shocked” to discover a plot to undermine her in Ukraine – carried out by an agent of her own government.
Their biographies seemed designed to tacitly rebut the wild attacks that seem sure to rain down from Trump’s Twitter account as soon as they are introduced to the public.
The trio – ambassador Bill Taylor, state department official George P Kent and former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch – are also positioned to tell complementary parts of the story of Trump’s alleged wrongdoing, and its disastrous effects on US national security interests.
In previous testimony behind closed doors, the three have described how they were flabbergasted at the direction US policy took on Ukraine as Trump ramped up his re-election campaign.
Together, they described a plot to coerce Ukraine into announcing investigations tied to Trump’s rival former vice-president Joe Biden. And they have described the official channel of US policy in the region being circumvented, and subverted, by an informal policy channel led by the unofficial Trump emissary Rudy Giuliani.
Taylor may describe the moment he realized the suspension of almost $400m in military aid for Ukraine was tied to Trump’s desire for Ukraine to manufacture bad news about Biden.
“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor texted a colleague.
Kent, whose portfolio included Ukraine, may describe how Trump’s shadow agenda in Ukraine shook the state department, especially when it came to the attacks on Yovanovitch, whom Kent has said fell victim to a “fake news smear” full of “complete poppycock”.
For her part, Yovanovitch might testify to the creeping realization that she had a target on her back. She first heard about the campaign against her from Ukrainian officials, she testified. But she was “shocked” to receive a call from Washington telling her to take the first plane home and to hear, “this is about your security”.
Yovanovitch could also speak to being attacked directly by Trump, who told the Ukrainian president in a July phone call that “she’s going to go through some things”.
“I didn’t know what it meant,” Yovanovitch testified last month. “I was very concerned. I still am.”
“Did you feel threatened?” she was asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
Like her fellow witnesses, Yovanovitch has a compelling personal story. Born in Canada, she is a 33-year veteran of the foreign service with posts in during six administrations, including under four Republican presidents.
Describing how her “parents fled Communist and Nazi regimes”, she has testified that “having seen, firsthand, the war and poverty and displacement common to totalitarian regimes, they valued the freedom and democracy the US offers, and that the United States represents. And they raised me to cherish those values as well”.
Kent, a state department veteran with three decades’ experience, speaks both Ukrainian and Russian, and has shepherded US policy in the region since 2004. He served for three years under Yovanovitch as deputy chief of mission in Kyiv.
Taylor is a former West Point cadet who served with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and subsequently worked in the energy department, senate, Nato and state department, with deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, Jerusalem and Ukraine.
The congressional committees appear to be on track to wrap up a significant portion of public hearings by the Thanksgiving break.
Schiff has not released names of future public witnesses, simply tweeting on Wednesday: “More to come.”