Democrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare'
BY MIKE LILLIS AND OLIVIA BEAVERS TWEET SHARE MORE House Democrats on Saturday unveiled an extensive outline of their legal case heading into the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, lending a preview of the arguments — both substantial and procedural — underlying the central assertion that the president abused his office and should be removed.
In the 111-page brief, Democrats argue that Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors — charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — and lay out the evidence and legal analysis they intend to present.
And while they buckle down on their allegations that Trump is guilty of pressuring a foreign power to investigate a 2020 political rival, they say the only lingering question they have is whether the Senate will be a fair arbiter of justice.
ADVERTISEMENT “The evidence overwhelmingly establishes that he is guilty of both. The only remaining question is whether the members of the Senate will accept and carry out the responsibility placed on them by the Framers of our Constitution and their constitutional Oaths,” the brief reads. “History will judge each Senator’s willingness to rise above partisan differences, view the facts honestly, and defend the Constitution.”
That statement highlights a central challenge facing the Democrats set to prosecute their impeachment case in the Senate: for all the legal machinations surrounding the debate, the trial is also a battle for public sentiment.
Trump’s Republican allies in the upper chamber are virtually united in opposing his ouster, and the made-for-TV trial is the Democrats' last best chance to convince voters to join their side and press Senate Republicans to follow suit.
ADVERTISEMENT Compiled by the seven Democrats serving as impeachment managers, the brief describes the president’s conduct as “the Framers' worst nightmare” in arguing that he should be removed from office.
“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.
Launched in September, the Democrats’ impeachment case rests on the allegations that Trump abused his office by withholding nearly $400 million in military aid and a visit to the White House to pressure Ukraine's leaders to open a pair of anti-corruption investigations that might have helped him politically.
The first was to target former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 presidential contender whose son was previously employed by a Ukrainian energy company. The second sought to examine the debunked theory that it was Kyiv, not Moscow, that had interfered in the 2016 election — a notion universally dismissed by the U.S. intelligence community.
ADVERTISEMENT “Overwhelming evidence shows that President Trump solicited these two investigations in order to obtain a personal political benefit, not because the investigations served the national interest,” the Democrats’ trial brief states.
The Democrats’ impeachment articles charge Trump with abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine, and then obstructing Congress as Democrats sought to investigate the episode.
And while their argument is not new, Democrats do pull in new information that has come to light since December, when the House voted largely along party lines to impeach the president.
Democrats folded in the opinion of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which concluded in a report released Thursday that the Trump administration’s decision to freeze the release of security assistance to Ukraine violated the law known as the Impoundment Control Act (ICA).
They also included a document that Lev Parnas, a longtime associate of Rudy Giuliani, provided to the House Intelligence Committee — specifically a May 2019 letter Giuliani sent to Volodymyr Zelensky, who was then the President-elect of Ukraine.
ADVERTISEMENT The Democrats’ brief arrived shortly before Trump's legal team unveiled its formal response to the impeachment articles, which the Senate delivered to the White House on Thursday.
Authored by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow, the six-page response attacks the Democrats' case on both procedural and substantive grounds, arguing most notably that abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not crimes, let alone impeachable offenses.
"The Articles of impeachment are Constitutionally invalid on their face," the lawyers wrote.
The White House also intends to push the argument that the impeachment effort is simply a politically motivated attempt by Democrats to attack a president they couldn't defeat at the polls.
"The articles of impeachment submitted by House Democrats are a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their president," the lawyers wrote. "This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election, and interfere with the 2020 election."
A central battle between the two sides hinges on Trump’s efforts to deny impeachment investigators access to information related to the Ukraine affair.
ADVERTISEMENT The White House, at the start of the probe, had directed administration officials not to cooperate in the process. And while Democrats were able to secure the testimony of 17 diplomats and national security officials during the course of their examination — many under subpoena — at least twelve others refused to appear.
Additionally, the administration defied all House subpoenas seeking documents related to the episode.
That directive to “categorically stonewall” the investigation — rather than invoke “discrete invocations of privilege or immunity” — led to the obstruction of Congress charge, the trial brief states.
The White House has fiercely contested that charge.
On Saturday, Trump’s legal team cited the president’s power to assert “legitimate executive branch confidential interests, grounded in the separation of powers."
“Furthermore, the notion that President Trump obstructed Congress is absurd,” the legal team said. “President Trump acted with extraordinary and unprecedented transparency by declassifying and releasing the transcript of the July 25 call [with Zelensky] that is at the heart of this matter."
Still, Republicans have also argued that Democrats have leaned too heavily on figures without first hand accounts of the Ukraine affair — a point they repeatedly made. However, this argument fails to acknowledge that the Trump administration repeatedly sought to block the testimony of first-hand witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
Democrats, who have pushed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to allow witnesses to be called in the trial, received further reinforcement for their demands when Bolton announced in a public statement that he would be willing to testify if the GOP-controlled Senate subpoenaed him for testimony.
McConnell has been against the idea.
It remains unclear whether the Senate will allow witnesses to be called. The decision will be made later in the trial after both the House and White House present their arguments.
Trump’s legal team is scheduled to release its own trial brief on Monday at noon. By Senate impeachment rules, Democrats will then have exactly 24 hours to formulate their response to that document.
The Senate trial is set to launch on the chamber floor on Tuesday at 1 p.m., with oral arguments expected to begin the following day.
Trump lawyers urge senators to swiftly acquit Trump in impeachment trial
Trump lawyers urge senators to swiftly acquit Trump in impeachment trial BY MORGAN CHALFANT TWEET SHARE MORE President Trump’s lawyers on Monday filed a brief urging the Senate to "swiftly" reject the impeachment charges against him, casting the articles as invalid and accusing House Democrats of a partisan effort to damage Trump ahead of the 2020 election.
"The Articles of Impeachment now before the Senate are an affront to the Constitution and to our democratic institutions. The Articles themselves—and the rigged process that brought them here—are a brazenly political act by House Democrats that must be rejected," Trump's lawyers, led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, wrote in a lengthy brief filed Monday afternoon.
The filing accuses House Democrats of crafting two "flimsy" articles of impeachment and using impeachment as "a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election."
ADVERTISEMENT "All of this is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn," the legal brief states.
Trump’s attorneys assert that the articles of impeachment themselves are flawed because they do not allege criminal wrongdoing, writing that the president was within his legal right in his conduct toward Ukraine and his decisions to prevent witnesses from testifying in connection with the impeachment inquiry.
“House Democrats’ novel theory of ‘abuse of power’ improperly supplants the standard of ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ with a made-up theory that would permanently weaken the Presidency by effectively permitting impeachments based merely on policy disagreements,” the filing reads.
ADVERTISEMENT “House Democrats’ concocted theory that the President can be impeached for taking permissible actions if he does them for what they believe to be the wrong reasons would also expand the impeachment power beyond constitutional bounds,” it continues.
The president’s attorneys also argue that Trump was asserting the constitutional privileges of the executive branch by instructing top aides not to comply with congressional subpoenas for their testimony, calling the obstruction charge “frivolous and dangerous.”
Accepting the Democrats' argument, Trump’s lawyers write, “would do lasting damage to the separation of powers.”
The brief was filed two days after House Democrat impeachment managers unveiled their own brief laying out the “compelling case” against Trump and urging the Senate to vote to convict and remove him from office.
ADVERTISEMENT “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 wrote, labeling Trump’s conduct “the Framers' worst nightmare.”
Democrats allege Trump sought to pressure Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that could benefit his reelection campaign and used a White House meeting and security assistance to Kyiv to do so.
The case revolves around a July 25 phone call during which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election as well as an unfounded claim about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine.
Trump has insisted he did not pressure Ukraine and characterized the call as “perfect.”
Trump’s lawyers issued their first formal response to the Senate on Saturday, in the form of a six-page letter that challenged the process that led to Trump’s impeachment, declared the articles “constitutionally invalid” and accused House Democrats of a “brazen and unlawful attempt” to reverse the 2016 election results.
ADVERTISEMENT The Democrat-controlled House voted in December to approve two articles of impeachment accusing Trump of abusing his power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstructing the congressional inquiry into his conduct.
The trial in the GOP-controlled Senate is slated to begin in earnest on Tuesday, when senators will debate and vote on a resolution to set the rules for the proceedings.
Cipollone and Sekulow are leading the president's team of lawyers. The White House announced Friday that several other high-profile figures would also play a role in the trial, including Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the former special counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton.
President Trump’s lawyers on Monday filed a brief urging the Senate to "swiftly" reject the impeachment charges, casting the articles as invalid and accusing House Democrats of a partisan effort to damage Trump ahead of the 2020 election.
Senate Democrats are pressing Chief Justice John Roberts to rule in favor of calling witnesses at President Trump's impeachment trial, while Republicans argue it could force his recusal from potential Supreme Court cases.
January 21, 2020 - 01:09 PM EST McConnell: Impeachment trial rules have enough support to pass
BY JORDAIN CARNEY 1,041 TWEET SHARE MORE
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that his proposed rules resolution for President Trump's impeachment trial has the votes needed to pass.
McConnell's statement, made on the Senate floor, comes shortly before the Senate begins what is expected to be an hours-long debate over the rules governing the impeachment proceedings.
McConnell called the rules fight an "entrance exam" that will determine if the Senate can "put fairness, evenhandedness and historical precedent ahead of partisan passions."
"The organizing resolution already has the support of the majority of the Senate. That's because it sets up a structure that is fair, evenhanded and tracks closely with past precedent that were established unanimously," McConnell said.
Democrats have taken issue with two provisions, in particular, in the rules resolution: While it gives both House managers and Trump's legal team 24 hours each to present their case, it breaks with the 1999 trial of President Clinton by requiring them to use that time within two days.
It also does not admit House evidence into the trial record until after the Senate votes on whether or not to call witnesses or admit documents. That vote is not expected to wait until after opening arguments and questions from senators.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) fired back at McConnell from the floor arguing that while the GOP leader has touted the Clinton rules his proposal includes changes that make the trial "less transparent, less clear and with less evidence."
"The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump and for President Trump. It asks the Senate to rush through as fast as possible and makes getting evidence as hard as possible. ...[It] will result in rushed trial with little evidence in the dark of night," Schumer said.
Schumer added that he was "amazed [McConnell] could say it with a straight face that the rules are the same as the Clinton rules. The rules are not even close to the Clinton rules."
Democrats are pledging to force a slew of votes on calling witnesses, compelling documents and making changes to the rules.
McConnell warned that the Senate will remain in session, even if it takes hours, until the rules are adopted.
After opening arguments, which should conclude on Saturday, senators will have 16 hours to ask questions in writing though Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.
McConnell also took a shot at House Democrats Tuesday, saying his rules "will draw a sharp contrast with the unfair and precedent-breaking inquiry" in the House.
"The House broke with fairness by cutting President Trump's counsel out of their inquiry to an unprecedented degree," McConnell said.
The White House previously declined to take part in the House process.
Senate Republicans forced through a resolution establishing the rules for President Trump’s impeachment trial in the early morning hours Wednesday, rejecting Democrats' demands for additional witnesses and documents at the outset of
“Corrupt” Press have won Pulitzers for “Russian hoax” President Trump declared Wednesday that he would love to attend the Senate impeachment trial and stare his accusers down. Speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Trump told a reporter “I’d love to go. Would that be great? Would that...
Republican senators emerged from a caucus meeting Tuesday voicing confidence they will win a vote later this week that would block new witnesses from being called and end President Trump’s impeachment trial this week.
BY MIKE LILLIS,JORDAIN CARNEY,OLIVIA BEAVERS AND ALEXANDER BOLTON98TWEETSHAREMORE The Senate on Wednesday acquitted President Trump on two impeachment charges surrounding his dealings with Ukraine, ending the historic, months-long battle over the president’s fitness to remain in office and leaving his fate to the voters who will head to the polls just nine months from now. The outcome was never in doubt. With Congress and the country both bitterly divided over the provocative president, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Senate voted virtually along party lines — 48-52 and 47-53 — to sink the two articles, which both fell far short of the 67 votes Democrats needed to convict Trump and remove him from office. The stunner of the day was Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee from Utah who broke with his party and voted to convict Trump of abuse of power. A handful of Democrats who had been seen as potential swing votes all stuck with their party.
The long-term impact of the impeachment saga remains an open question — and won’t really be answered until November’s elections. Both sides have launched a furious messaging campaign to win the battle for public sentiment. “No matter what the senators have the courage or not to do, he will be impeached forever,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi(D-Calif.) said heading into the votes. “He will be acquitted forever beginning today,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway countered on Wednesday.
Democrats maintain Trump withheld millions of dollars in security aid for Ukraine for the sole purpose of coercing the country’s leaders to find dirt on his political rivals. In seeking foreign help in a U.S. election, they charged, the president abused his power, then obstructed Congress as Democrats sought to investigate the affair. With polls showing roughly 50 percent of the country supporting Trump’s removal, Democrats are hoping Trump’s acquittal is just a temporary victory. Trump, for his part, has accused Democrats of conducting a politically motivated “witch hunt” designed to overturn his 2016 victory. After the verdicts, he appeared poised to go on the attack a day after delivering a State of the Union address remarkable mostly for underscoring the deep partisan tensions in Washington. Trump’s GOP allies have been energized by the process, driving the president’s approval rating to 49 percent this week — the highest since he took office, according to Gallup’s surveys.
The president also gloated this week as the Democratic Party’s caucuses in Iowa descended into chaos and ended in a muddled result that suggests a long primary battle to come. “The president has his highest approval rating since he’s been in office. I can tell you as a poll watcher ... every one of our people in tough races is in better shape today than they were before the impeachment trial started,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after the votes. Yet Democrats are equally as confident that impeachment will shift the landscape in their favor, citing their own polls indicating that a majority of voters back Trump’s removal. “Donald Trump will do a victory lap today ... but history and the truth are right behind them and they are going to overtake them,” Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said a few hours before the Senate votes. “President Trump corruptly abused his power by soliciting foreign interference in an American election solely for his personal political gain,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We have proved that decisively.”
The impeachment battle was full of historic firsts and rife with dramatic twists. Trump is just the third president to be impeached in the country’s history — following Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — but the first to be targeted during his first term. Like Trump, both Johnson and Clinton survived removal by the Senate; unlike Trump, neither of them had to face voters afterward. The debate also marked the first presidential impeachment featuring a House and Senate controlled by different parties — a dynamic that gave rise to career-headlining battles between Trump, Pelosi and McConnell while stoking the flames of what many experts have deemed the most sectarian and acrimonious of the three impeachment fights. The facts underlying Trump’s impeachment are not seriously contested. Trump and his allies pressed Ukrainian leaders to open two investigations that might have helped him politically: the first into Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential hopeful; the second into debunked theories that Kyiv, not Moscow, meddled in the 2016 election. At the same time, the administration temporarily delayed $391 million in aid to Ukraine, which is fighting Russian-backed separatists in the eastern parts of the country.
Throughout the Senate trial, Trump’s lawyers leaned on several arguments in the president’s defense. First, they rejected the notion that Trump had abused his power, saying the president was merely fighting corruption in Ukraine, in general, not specifically targeting his political opponents. They also asserted that, even if Trump did abuse his power and obstruct Congress, that conduct wouldn’t be impeachable since neither constitutes a technical crime. Most of Trump’s Senate allies adopted that defense — but not all of them. In a blow to White House talking points, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is close to McConnell, said House managers “proved” Trump held up the aid, in part, to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The behavior was “inappropriate,” according to Alexander, but not impeachable. There were others. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) called Trump’s behavior “wrong and inappropriate”; Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) acknowledged that Trump “may have acted in the wrong manner”; and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Trump’s request to Ukrainian leaders was “just improper,” urging him to apologize for actions the president has characterized as “perfect.” In the end, however, all of them voted to acquit Trump of any wrongdoing. “In the actual articles of impeachment, there are no accusations that the president broke the law,” Collins told CBS Tuesday. The Senate trial brought more immediate political consequences: With the final votes delayed until Wednesday, the four Democratic senators running for president were grounded in Washington for much of Monday, the day of the Iowa caucuses. The 2020 hopefuls made a final two-day sprint across the state over the weekend but were sidelined on the trail for nearly three weeks as the Senate sat through opening statements, questions and procedural fights. Despite Trump’s acquittal Wednesday, the investigation into the Ukraine saga might not be over. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that Democrats would “likely” subpoena for the testimony of John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, whom Republicans had blocked from appearing as part of the Senate trial. SPONSORED CONTENT Why does Canada have the G7’s lowest overall tax rate on new business investment? By Invest in Canada See The Hill’s Global Lenses: Canada Read More Bolton’s forthcoming book includes first-hand allegations of the president telling him directly that he was withholding aid to Ukraine to secure investigations into his Democratic rivals — a direct contradiction of Trump’s defense — creating plenty of interest among Democrats to have him tell his story under oath. Pelosi, meanwhile, is dismissing the notion that Trump was truly acquitted, accusing McConnell of tipping the scales in favor of the president in a way that makes the outcome invalid. “There can be no acquittal without a trial, and there is no trial without witnesses, documents and evidence,” she said after the votes. “By suppressing the evidence and rejecting the most basic elements of a fair judicial process, the Republican Senate made themselves willing accomplices to the president’s cover-up.”