Donald Trump’s legal team have called on U.S. senators to “speedily reject” the impeachment case against him, arguing that he broke no laws, in a submission made just before the trial begins in earnest today (Tuesday).
The 171-page legal brief, which is the most comprehensive defence of the U.S. president’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal to date, called the impeachment push a “rigged process” and said he “did absolutely nothing wrong”.
Trump’s lawyers argued that he cannot be guilty of abuse of power – as the first article of impeachment against him claims – because he is not accused of violating any law, unlike past presidents who have faced impeachment.
They attempted to dismiss the second article of impeachment, that Trump obstructed Congress, by arguing that he was fairly using his executive powers when rejecting legal demands for White House officials to testify to the impeachment inquiry.
The submission also contains the first detailed White House explanation for why it was legitimate for Trump to ask for the Ukrainian president to investigate claims about Joe Biden, the Democrat he could face at the 2020 election, which was the trigger for impeachment.
Trump’s lawyers said that when Biden, then U.S. vice-president, sought the sacking of a Ukrainian prosecutor who once investigated the gas company his son worked for, there “appeared to be, at the very least, a serious conflict of interest”.
Therefore, the argument went, it was fair for Trump to raise the issue. The Bidens have always denied any wrongdoing. There were also repeated attacks in the submission on how Democrats have pursued impeachment through the House of Representatives. They were accused of a “constitutional travesty” and “brazenly political act” that is an “affront” to American democracy.
“The Senate should speedily reject these deficient articles of impeachment and acquit the president,” read one part of the document.
“The only threat to the Constitution that House Democrats have brought to light is their own degradation of the impeachment process and trampling of the separation of powers.
“Their fixation on damaging the president has trivialised the momentous act of impeachment, debased the standards of impeachable conduct, and perverted the power of impeachment by turning it into a partisan, election-year political tool.
“The consequences of accepting House Democrats’ diluted standards for impeachment would reverberate far beyond this election year and do lasting damage to our Republic.”
The Democrats have submitted their own lengthy justification for why Trump should be removed, arguing that he used his presidential powers for personal gain by trying to tilt the election this November in his favour.
Today the Senate trial over removing the president – only the third in U.S. history – will begin in earnest, with votes setting out the rules before the Democrats begin making their case.
The Republicans hold 53 of the 100 Senate seats and so will decide how the proceedings are carried out, providing individual senators do not rebel.
The expected proposal will be that the Democrats get 24 hours, spread across two days, to lay out their case for removing Trump, followed by 24 hours for the president’s legal team to spell out the defence.
There will then be 16 hours of questions submitted in writing by the 100 senators, who will act like a jury. Two thirds of senators ultimately need to vote for removal for it to happen – a very high bar, making it unlikely.
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