(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s attorneys and the House Democrats managing his impeachment trial filed their first formal briefs in the case on Saturday, pursuing familiar arguments aimed more at influencing the voters than the senators who will be his jurors.
In a 111-page trial brief, the seven Democratic impeachment managers say the president’s pattern of misconduct made him a “threat to the nation and the rule of law.” An initial six-page response from Trump’s own lawyers takes aim at the House Democrats who investigated Trump, calling the impeachment probe a “brazen and unlawful” attempt to overturn the 2016 election.
The Senate will begin its first impeachment trial in 20 years on Tuesday, a process that will end with the lawmakers rendering judgment on whether Trump’s presidency should be ended over his efforts to force Ukraine’s government to open investigations into one of his political rivals. The Republican-led Senate is exceedingly unlikely to convict Trump, but the House managers are also targeting undecided voters, with polls showing Americans leaning toward replacing the president in November’s elections.
Democrats called on senators to conduct a fair trial as part of the oath they took this 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.”
The White House declined to participate in the House’s investigation, so their brief filing 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, wrote that 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.
House Democrats dismissed Trump’s response and said it demonstrates why he should be removed from office.
“Rather than honestly address the evidence against him, the president’s latest filing makes the astounding claim that pressuring Ukraine to interfere in our election by announcing investigations that would damage a political opponent and advance his re-election is the president’s way of fighting corruption,” the seven impeachment managers said in a joint statement Saturday night. “It is not. Rather it is corruption itself, naked, unapologetic and insidious.”
The White House is slated to file its more complete 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 close to the House impeachment managers refuted the White House’s claims Saturday that Democrats are trying to undo his election, 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 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 report also includes a finding released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office that Trump’s withholding of military assistance for Ukraine violated federal law.
The managers quoted the nonpartisan congressional watchdog’s statement that “faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.
Senate Democrats said last week the GAO report bolsters their push to subpoena documents and witnesses that are relevant to the withholding of military aid.
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 whistle-blower 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 conspiracy 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.
(Updates with impeachment managers response starting in ninth paragraph)
--With assistance from Laura Davison.
To contact the reporters on this story: Billy House in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Justin Sink in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at firstname.lastname@example.org, Anna Edgerton
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