WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyers argued in a trial brief filed Monday that the House of Representatives failed to show a criminal violation and that his conviction in the Senate impeachment trial would fundamentally change the separation of powers outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
The 171-page document, filed with the Senate ahead of a noon Monday deadline, provides the most detailed preview to date of how the president’s team plans to defend him against two impeachment charges of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.
It contends that the House failed to prove that the president explicitly linked aid for Ukraine to an investigation Trump sought into political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden. The president’s lawyers will also argue that the Senate should swiftly reject the impeachment articles, according to two people working with the president’s legal team who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
Monday’s filing was designed to be a more substantive response to the arguments made by House Democratic impeachment managers than the president’s initial case filing over the weekend, but largely adopted the same combative posture.
The White House — knowing it would take at least 20 Republican senators to defect to see Trump removed from office — has instead tailored its case to the American public, arguing that the impeachment effort is a partisan bid by establishment Washington to overturn the results of the 2016 election.
Central to the president’s defense outlined in the brief is the argument that Trump did not violate the law by withholding $391 million in taxpayer-funded assistance to Ukraine. Democrats say Trump used that aid as leverage to force a politically motivated investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
Trump’s legal team argues that the House failed to find a witness who heard the president condition U.S. assistance on the investigation, instead basing their arguments on hearsay and assumptions by other witnesses. They contend that House impeachment managers must prove that the president even mentioning his concerns over corruption or an uncorroborated conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election is somehow illegal.
They also say that a recent finding by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office that Trump violated the law in withholding the aid is irrelevant, because the House did not include mention of the report in the charging document they sent to the Senate weeks before the GAO released its findings.
The president’s legal team also rejected arguments from Democrats that Trump undertook “an unprecedented campaign” to obstruct the congressional investigation into his conduct. They argue that the White House routinely blocks lawmakers from interviewing senior administration officials to preserve the president’s institutional rights, and that being removed for office for that would mean a fundamental shift in the separation of power.
The formal trial is expected to begin Tuesday with an announcement of proposed rules by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a bid by his counterpart, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, to guarantee testimony from additional witnesses. Schumer has said senators should hear from top White House officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who refused to cooperate with the House probe.
The president’s lawyers have indicated that if Democrats pursue additional witness testimony, they would want to subpoena Biden and his son, whose time serving on the corporate board of Ukrainian energy giant Burisma would have been the focus of the investigation proposed by the president’s allies.
“If we call one witness, we’re going to call all the witnesses — there’s not going to be a process where the Democrats get their witnesses and the president gets shut out,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on “Fox News Sunday.”
McConnell is expected to offer a format that would give House impeachment managers 24 hours over two days to present their case, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” The president’s defenders would then be given an equal amount of time to mount their defense.
In a further indication that the president’s team sees their defense more oriented to voters than senators in the chamber, the White House announced that a number of high-profile lawyers who make regular appearances on cable television — including Harvard Law emeritus professor Alan Dershowitz, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Clinton impeachment prosecutor Ken Starr — would be presenting elements of their defense.
The format also requires senators to attend and relinquish their cellphones during the trial. And Democratic senators vying for their party’s presidential nomination — Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — will be forced off the campaign trail.