WASHINGTON -- Democrats this week enter a do-or-die phase of their impeachment inquiry following a week of public testimony, as they summon a flurry of witnesses they hope will convince the public that President Trump should be impeached for pressing a foreign government to launch criminal investigations for his political benefit.
The hearings follow a rare weekend in which a key White House official was deposed and the transcripts were released from two additional closed-door depositions of administration officials.
Earlier in the week three veteran diplomats testified in public, soberly describing the ramifications of the president's pressure campaign -- undermining Ukraine, a stalwart U.S. ally at war with Russia, and eroding U.S. stature across the globe, they said.
Constitutional scholars say Democrats have succeeded in laying important groundwork. Now the hard part begins: proving that Trump abused his power and that his actions are serious enough to justify his impeachment.
"Democrats have done well so far," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, noting that the public hearings have produced some damaging moments for the White House. "The next week will prove key. They will have to show this is big enough to justify the impeachment and removal of a president."
Turley and other constitutional scholars said Republicans struggled to find a coherent narrative in defending Trump, though they scored points by arguing that no witnesses have provided direct evidence linking the president to nefarious activity.
This week, Republican House members are likely to continue pounding a point that some GOP senators have raised: that even if true, the allegations don't rise to the level of impeachable conduct.
"When we're talking about impeachment, we are talking about impeachable offenses," said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who has emerged as a leading GOP voice in the inquiry. "The Democrats want to continue making this a political food fight. They are going about this in a partisan way."
Democrats hope to wrap up the inquiry by the end of the year. If Trump becomes the third president to be impeached, he will face trial in the Senate to determine whether he should be removed from office.
The accelerated schedule is responsible for the onslaught of witnesses expected to testify publicly this week. Eight current and former administration officials are scheduled to testify over three days.