Donald Trump impeachment: House brief demands president’s removal to protect rule of law5 min read . Updated: 19 Jan 2020, 08:14 AM IST
- Donald Trump’s pattern of misconduct made him a 'threat to the nation and the rule of law', US House impeachment managers said
- Donald Trump’s team said Democrats are trying to overturn the 2016 election in brazen fashion
WASHINGTON : House impeachment managers filed their initial legal brief for Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, saying the president’s pattern of misconduct made him a “threat to the nation and the rule of law." Trump’s team said Democrats are trying to overturn the 2016 election in brazen fashion.
The conclusion was made in an 111-page document, which includes evidence the managers said “overwhelmingly" showed that Trump is guilty abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The brief calls on senators to conduct a fair trial as part of the oath they took last week to “do impartial justice."
“President Trump has demonstrated his continued willingness to corrupt free and fair elections, betray our national security, and subvert the constitutional separation of powers—all for personal gain," the brief says. “It is imperative that the Senate convict and remove him from office now, and permanently bar him from holding federal office."
In its first first formal response, Trump’s legal team said Democrats had mounted a “brazen and unlawful" attempt to overturn the 2016 election and interfere in this year’s vote. An official working on the House impeachment dismissed that response as more like a fundraising email from the Trump reelection campaign — a political defense more than a legal one.
While the Republican-led Senate is extremely unlikely to convict Trump on the two articles approved by the House, his defense lawyers and the House prosecutors have another important audience: The American people weighing Trump’s re-election.
The White House declined to participate in the House’s investigation, so this is the first time that Trump’s counsel addressed the merits of the case against him, rather than simply criticizing the process.
The president’s legal team, including Ken Starr, who served as independent counsel for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, released its first response to the impeachment proceedings on Saturday evening. In the six-page filing, lawyers for Trump say the articles are unconstitutional and that Trump “did nothing wrong."
“The articles of impeachment submitted by House Democrats are a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their president," Trump’s team said.
The White House is slated to file its trial brief on Monday at noon, which will expand on the arguments in Saturday’s six-page filing.
The president’s legal team will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and the Trump’s private attorney, Jay Sekulow. Other members of the team expect to give discrete presentations on specific topics.
Democratic officials familiar with the House argument refuted the White House’s claims Saturday, saying Trump’s conduct is exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they set up the impeachment process. The officials also said that the House inquiry afforded Trump the same chances to defend himself as previous presidential impeachments.
The House’s prosecution team — seven impeachment managers led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff — will have the option to respond to Trump’s initial legal arguments before the Senate reconvenes on Tuesday for the trial.
Most of the evidence in Saturday’s House filing came from weeks of closed door depositions and open hearings with witnesses who participated in the planning for -- and fallout from -- a pressure campaign from Trump associates to get Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Trump and his allies frequently claim that Biden acted corruptly to protect Burisma, a Ukranian gas company where his son was a board member. The impeachment managers refute that claim in the filing.
The theory is “baseless" and there is “no credible evidence" to support the allegation that Biden acted improperly when he encouraged Ukraine to remove a prosecutor who was facing corruption accusations, the brief said. Biden was carrying out official U.S. policy, a view that was shared by European allies and the International Monetary Fund, according to the filing.
As leverage to demand an investigation of the Bidens, the White House blocked nearly $400 million in congressionally approved security aid for Ukraine, as well as a White House meeting sought by newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The brief includes evidence from witnesses making those connections as part of a quid pro quo.
The impeachment managers cite the administration directive for current and former officials to not participate in the House inquiry, as well as Trump’s own statements, as evidence of obstruction. They point to the 12 Trump officials who declined to appear for requested testimony, “nine of whom did so in defiance of duly authorized subpoenas."
The brief also accuses Trump of “intimidation tactics" against the witnesses who did appear, as well as “sustained attacks" on the intelligence community whistleblower who filed a complaint about Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine.
This is part of an “ominous pattern" of behavior for the president, the House prosecutors said in the brief, pointing to the way Trump responded to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Allowing this pattern to continue without repercussion would send the clear message that President Trump is correct in his view that no governmental body can hold him accountable for wrongdoing," according to the brief. “That view is erroneous and exceptionally dangerous.“
Although the articles of impeachment don’t rely on evidence from Mueller’s report, the House managers drew parallels between Trump’s behavior in the two episodes. Both included Trump associates in contact with a foreign power regarding a U.S. election, as well the president’s refusal to engage with investigators probing those interactions.
“Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation -- like the House’s impeachment inquiry -- sought to uncover whether President Trump coordinated with a foreign government in order to obtain an improper advantage during a Presidential election," the managers said.
Obstruction of justice
Mueller said there was not enough evidence that the Trump campaign engaged in a criminal consiracy with Russia regarding the 2016 election. His report highlighted several episodes that could amount to obstruction of justice, but it left it up to Congress to weigh the severity of those offenses.
"President Trump repeatedly used his powers of office to undermine and derail the Mueller investigation, particularly after learning that he was personally under investigation for obstruction of justice," the brief says.
The case that House prosecutors sent to the Senate references new evidence that wasn’t part of the impeachment inquiry, including material from Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Parnas, who was arrested in October and indicted on campaign finance violations, this month provided House committees with documents to reinforce accusations that the president was personally involved in efforts to pressure Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically.
At least four of the impeachment managers, including Schiff, are scheduled to appear Sunday on political talk shows. All of them will be back in Washington on Sunday, and they’ll do a walk-through of the Senate chamber Monday on the eve of the trial, the officials said.