Saturday’s filing from Trump marks his initial entry into the impeachment battle. The president and his lawyers had explicitly sat out the House investigation, complaining in a December letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that “more due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.”
But that approach won’t fly in the Senate, where Chief Justice John Roberts last week outlined a detailed schedule of separate legal filings for both sides of the debate. Trump’s initial reply will be followed by a more exhaustive trial brief from his lawyers that’s due on Monday.
In its first filing, the Trump legal team hammered what it calls “procedural irregularities” in the House’s impeachment process and the decision by Democrats not to accuse the president of committing a statutory crime — a threshold that constitutional scholars have long said isn’t a necessity when Congress seeks to remove a federal officeholder.
“In the end, this entire process is nothing more than a dangerous attack on the American people themselves and their fundamental right to vote,” the Trump legal filing says.
The president’s lawyers won’t be first to make arguments in the Senate trial. Seven House Democratic impeachment managers are expected to begin their presentation at the start of the week after the Senate signs off on the formal rules for the proceedings, including time limits for all the speakers and an outline for future floor votes over whether witnesses should be called to give their first-hand account of the issues at the center of the impeachment.
The House impeached Trump last month, charging him with abusing his power by pressuring the Ukrainian government to launch investigations into his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden. A second charge states that Trump obstructed congressional investigations by ordering a blanket stonewall of the House’s Ukraine probes.
Previewing their arguments Saturday, the House managers in their own opening 111-page trial brief featured a slate of evidence that has emerged in the month since the House impeached Trump on Dec. 18. The new evidence, which continued to pour in even after the trial began last week, underscores the rapidly evolving case against Trump, a particularly acute risk for Republicans seeking a rapid dismissal of the charges.
Among the new evidence the House will rely upon: a Government Accountability Office report that found Trump illegally withheld military aid from Ukraine when he failed to notify Congress of the move, which came at the precise time he and his allies were pressuring Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden. The brief also cites emails recently unearthed by national security publication Just Security, indicating the legal turmoil that Trump’s hold on military aid caused inside his administration.
Democrats’ argument also includes one reference to Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who turned over multiple flash drives containing evidence to the House in recent days. Among Parnas’ documents: a May 2019 letter from Giuliani to Zelensky in which he requests to meet the newly elected president and indicates he’s working on Trump’s behalf.
The brief will be presented next week by the seven managers appointed by Pelosi, who include House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Hakeem Jeffries, Val Demings, Sylvia Garcia and Jason Crow.
In its brief, the House argues that removing Trump from office is the only appropriate remedy for the charges against him because he presents an ongoing threat to national security.
“President Trump’s ongoing pattern of misconduct demonstrates that he is an immediate threat to the Nation and the rule of law. It is imperative that the Senate convict and remove him from office now, and permanently bar him from holding federal office,” they write.
“If the Senate permits President Trump to remain in office, he and future leaders would be emboldened to welcome, and even enlist, foreign interference in elections for years to come.”
The Democrats’ filing comes as the Trump legal team wraps up its final plans for the trial.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone is in line to open the defense case by taking on some of the core constitutional issues behind the House impeachment effort. He’ll then give way to Trump’s longtime personal attorney Jay Sekulow for an overview of the entire process.
New high-profile additions include former Bill Clinton special prosecutors Kenneth Starr and Robert Ray, and retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz will also be called on to tackle “discrete functions” during the trial, according to sources close to the Trump lawyers.
The Trump lawyers’ plans, however, are also far from final. “We may break it up,” said one of the people close to the president’s legal team who briefed reporters on Saturday. “We don’t know yet.”
One area the Trump legal team does plan to put up a fight: The Democrats’ attempts to fold in new information that’s surfaced since last month’s House floor vote. That includes the GAO report.
“We’re dealing with discrete articles of impeachment. They brought up two articles of impeachment. That is what’s before the United States Senate,” said one of the sources close to the Trump legal team.