The Democrats filed to the Senate their trial brief, a summary explaining why the House passed two articles of impeachment last month charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“President Trump’s conduct is the Framers’ worst nightmare,” the managers wrote in the brief.
“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, and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct,” the managers wrote in the brief. “The Constitution provides a remedy when the President commits such serious abuses of his office: impeachment and removal. The Senate must use that remedy now to safeguard the 2020 U.S. election, protect our constitutional form of government, and eliminate the threat that the President poses to America’s national security.”
The brief is the first of multiple filings that both the House and the President’s lawyers will submit in the coming days ahead of the substantive start of the trial on Tuesday. The President’s response to the articles of impeachment, which is separate from the response to the trial brief itself, is due at 6 p.m. EST on Saturday.
The legal filings are the paper version of the arguments that will play out on the Senate floor starting next week, as the chamber is transformed from legislative body to courtroom. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is presiding over the proceedings, and the Senate is being adjusted for the trial, including adding the ability to play audio and video, normally forbidden in the chamber.
House Democrats charge that Trump abused his office by withholding $400 million in security aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine while pressuring Kiev to open investigations into the President’s political rivals. Then, they say, he obstructed the congressional investigation of his misconduct with an unprecedented blockade of House subpoenas to Trump administration agencies and officials.
The President’s legal team is expected to file a brief Saturday evening charging that the impeachment articles are “constitutionally invalid on their face,” according to sources close to the legal team. The sources said the response will argue that the abuse of power article alleges no violation of law and said does “lasting damage to the separation of powers,” and that Trump was within his rights to ignore invalid requests from Congress during the impeachment inquiry.
The Senate will return Tuesday by passing a resolution outlining the rules of the impeachment trial, which is expected to be approved only with Republican votes.
The text of the resolution has not been released. But it’s expected to punt the question of calling witnesses until after opening arguments and senators’ questions, while including an opportunity to vote on whether the Senate should have witnesses. Senate GOP leaders are also considering condensing the number of days for opening arguments, according to sources familiar with the matter, splitting the 24 hours given to each side into two, 12-hour days instead of four, six-hour days that were used during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
House Democratic aides said they would be watching for any deviation from the Clinton precedent, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he’s following, including the number of days for arguments. By shortening the number of days for arguments, it helps Senate Republicans speed up the trial with the President’s State of the Union address looming on February 4.
A Senate GOP aide argued that Senate Republicans have “every right to make this shorter rather than longer.
“There are only two counts and not exactly a mountain of evidence. Certainly, not the evidence that was compiled in Watergate and ’98,” the aide said.
But a fight over logistics of the trial is just an opener for the larger fight over whether there will be witnesses in the trial. Senate Democrats have called for four witnesses, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and they’ve pointed to the new documents provided to the House by indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas as evidence the trial should have witnesses and additional documents.
A source involved in discussions said that the Senate is expected to have at least one closed session Tuesday while senators debate the rules. When that happens, everyone has to leave the chamber, including the House managers and the President’s defense team, the source said. The Senate goes into closed session during the impeachment trial because senators are jurors and are not allowed to speak during the trial.
The seven House impeachment managers, led by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, are returning to Washington Sunday to prepare for the trial, according to Democratic aides. The managers will do a walk-through of the Senate chamber on Monday.
The aides said much of the paperwork, arguments and other materials for the trial have already been drafted by staff who have been working on the preparations over the past month. They plan to continue to “refine it” over the weekend, one of the sources said.
The President’s legal team will respond to the House’s brief by 12 p.m., ET Monday. The House will then have the chance to counter to the President’s trial brief by 12 p.m., ET on Tuesday. Separately, the House has a deadline of 12 p.m., ET on Monday to respond to the President’s answer to the impeachment articles that’s due Saturday evening.