On eve of impeachment trial, Donald Trump’s lawyers urge swift dismissal

U.S. Capitol
Tuesday's trial opening expected to focus on rules debate

President Donald Trump’s legal team asserted Monday he did “absolutely nothing wrong,” urging the Senate to swiftly reject the “flimsy” impeachment case against him as rigged, while the Capitol braced for a contentious trial.

The brief from Trump’s lawyers, filed as senators prepare to return to Washington for opening arguments, offers the most detailed look at the lines of defense they intend to use against Democratic efforts to convict the president and oust him from office over his dealings with Ukraine. It is meant as a counter to a filing two days ago from House Democrats that summarized weeks of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses in laying out the impeachment case.

“All of this is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn,” the lawyers wrote. “The articles should be rejected and the president should immediately be acquitted.”

The 110-page brief from the White House, plus a scheduled House Democratic response, come as final preparations were underway at the Capitol for the Senate trial. With the trial taking place in an election year, some of the very senators running to replace Trump as president are sitting as jurors.

The White House filing shifted the tone toward a more legal response but still echoed with campaign-style slogans. It hinged on Trump’s assertion he did nothing wrong and did not commit a crime — even though impeachment does not depend on a material violation of law but rather on the more vague definition of “other high crimes and misdemeanors” as established in the Constitution.

With security tightening at the Capitol, the House prosecutors made their way through crowds of tourists in the Rotunda to tour the Senate chamber. The White House legal team led by Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow soon followed, both sides under instructions to keep the chamber doors closed to onlookers and the press. Four TV monitors were set up inside to show testimony, exhibits and potentially tweets or other social media, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to discuss it who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Senators are poised for only the third trial of its kind in U.S. history but first they must contend with a rules fight and whether to allow new witnesses. The White House legal team said Monday it supports whatever package Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell puts forward, including one that would give both sides 24 hours over just two days each to argue their case.

In their own filing Monday, House prosecutors replied to Trump’s not guilty plea by making fresh demands for a fair trial in the Senate.

“President Trump asserts that his impeachment is a partisan ‘hoax.’ He is wrong,” the prosecutors wrote.

The House Democrats led by Chairman Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee said the president can’t have it both ways — rejecting the facts of the House case but also stonewalling congressional subpoenas for witnesses and testimony. “Senators must honor their own oaths by holding a fair trial with all relevant evidence,” they wrote.

The White House document released Monday says the two articles of impeachment brought against the president — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — don’t amount to impeachment offenses. It asserts that the impeachment inquiry, centered on Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president open an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden, was never about finding the truth.

“Instead, House Democrats were determined from the outset to find some way — any way — to corrupt the extraordinary power of impeachment for use as a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election,” Trump’s legal team wrote. “All of that is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn.”

The impeachment case accuses Trump of abusing power by withholding military aid from Ukraine at the same time that he was seeking an investigation into Biden, and of obstructing Congress by instructing administration officials not to appear for testimony or provide documents, defying congressional subpoenas.

In a brief filed earlier, House Democrats called Trump’s conduct the “worst nightmare” of the framers of the Constitution.

“President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain,” the House prosecutors wrote, “and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.”

But Trump’s team contended Monday that even if Trump were to have abused his power in withholding the Ukraine military assistance, it would not be impeachable, because it did not violate a specific criminal statute.

The president’s team issued several opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to back up its claims and support its position that it had not illegally defied Congress.

One OLC opinion said the House investigation was not formally opened until after some subpoenas were issued, making the demands legally unenforceable, while two others said that senior advisers of the president were immune from being forced to testify in part because they handled national security matters.

Opening arguments are expected within days following a debate Tuesday over rules, including about whether witnesses are to be called in the trial.

Trump signaled his opposition to witnesses, tweeting Monday: “They didn’t want John Bolton and others in the House. They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!”

That’s a reference to former national security adviser John Bolton. House Democrats wanted him to testify but chose not to pursue a subpoena and risk an extended struggle in court. But he has said he is willing to testify in the Senate if subpoenaed.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has outlined demands for documents and testimony, including from Bolton, and promised to put senators on the spot with votes to ensure they are called.

“We are going to demand votes – yes or no, up or down – on the four witnesses we’ve requested and on the three sets of documents we’ve requested,” Schumer told reporters over the weekend.

The White House brief argues that the articles of impeachment passed by the House are “structurally deficient” because they charge multiple acts, creating “a menu of options” as possible grounds for conviction.

The Trump team claims that the Constitution requires that senators agree “on the specific basis for conviction” and that there is no way to ensure that the senators agree on which acts are worthy of removal, because a single count contains multiple allegations.

Administration officials have argued that similar imprecision applied to the perjury case in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, who was acquitted by the Senate.

The Trump lawyers accused Democrats of diluting the standards for impeachment, an argument that echoed the case made Sunday by one of Trump’s attorneys, Alan Dershowitz, who contended in talk shows that impeachable offenses must be “criminal-like conduct.”

That assertion has been rejected by scholars, and Schiff called it an “absurdist position.”

The White House also suggests the House inquiry was lacking because it failed to investigate Biden or his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was vice president. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


  • jim kaat

    January 20, 2020 at 7:43 pm

    Democrats are all corrupt to the core and are poison to taxpayers. Be it Joe Biden, Sanders, Pete or Elizabeth Warren. They all follow the radical hyena’s Nancy Pelosi, Sheila Jackson Lee, Maxine Waters, Al Green, AOC, Talib, Pressley, llhan Omar all are on the wrong side of history.
    Democrat Goals & Platform:
    -Weaken our Military.
    -Green new deal.
    -Free medicare care for all including non citizens (taxpayer funded)
    -Free college for all, including non citizens. (tax payer funded)
    -Open Borders.
    -Sanctuary Cities.
    -Decriminalize illegal entry into our country.
    -De-fund & terminate Border Patrol & ICE.
    -Disarming Americans.
    -Massive tax increases.
    -End all deportations of illegal aliens (if you get here, you stay.)
    -Drivers licenses for illegal aliens.
    -Voting rights for non citizens.
    -Welfare & Food Stamps for illegal aliens. (Warren/Sanders)
    -Non citizens allowed to hold public office.
    -Late term abortions up to 9 months.
    -Opposed to ANY voter ID Laws.
    *View their speeches / debates on youtube

  • Pedro

    January 21, 2020 at 2:02 am

    They are so afraid of a fair trial!

    • jim kaat

      January 21, 2020 at 11:43 am

      What evidence Pedro?

  • Sonja Emily Fitch

    January 21, 2020 at 5:56 am

    No one is above the rule law. NO ONE IS ABOVE THE RULE OF LAW. Moscow Mitch is aiding and abetting a damn traitor for Moscow Mitch’s ego and greed and need for power. Moscow Mitch, Cornyn, McSally, Collins, Gardner, Percdue, Ernst and Tillis have accepted bribes from trump’s win/red pac to vote no. ARREST LINDSEY GRAHAM FOR AIDING AND ABETTING IMPEACHED TRUMP IN HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS AND OBSTRUCTION OF LAW.

    • JILL ROE

      January 21, 2020 at 11:42 am

      Yo…… should have stayed in school LOL

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn