Trump, Democrats set impeachment arguments ahead of Senate trial

Democrats say Trump is ‘personally responsible’ for the US Capitol riot as Trump’s lawyers deny the charges.

Former US President Donald Trump speaks to a rally of supporters before the US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021 [File: Jim Bourg/Reuters]

With former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial set to begin next week, House Democrats and Trump’s legal team filed dueling briefs Tuesday outlining their arguments regarding the US House’s article of impeachment charging Trump with inciting an insurrection.

“It is denied that President Trump ever endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government,” Trump’s defense lawyers wrote in a 14-page brief, which requests a dismissal of the impeachment article or an acquittal in the trial.

One of their arguments is now that Trump is no longer in office, it would be unconstitutional for the Senate to remove him from office. In addition, the brief argues that the former president did not receive “due process” prior to the House passage of the article of impeachment against him”.

“The lack of due process included, but was not limited to, its failure to conduct any meaningful committee review or other investigation, engage in any full and fair consideration of evidence in support of the Article, as well as the failure to
conduct any full and fair discussion by allowing the 45th President’s positions
to be heard in the House Chamber,” Trump’s attorneys wrote.

Tuesday’s filing is the first public road map of Trump’s defence following a late shake-up of his legal team. Over the weekend, Trump hired two new lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor, after a reported dispute with his initial lawyers over how to defend the charge that he urged a mob of his supporters gathered in Washington, DC, on January 6 to storm the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s November 3 election victory. The riot left five people dead.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday, Schoen, said he would not argue that Trump lost the election because of fraud, as he has repeatedly insisted. However, the brief submitted Tuesday argued Trump, who had used speeches and tweets to claim the election was stolen from him, had exercised “his First Amendment right under the Constitution to express his belief that the election results were suspect.”

Republican Senator John Cornyn – one of the 100 members of the Senate who will serve as jurors in Trump’s second impeachment trial – said Monday that bringing up claims of election fraud would be “really not material” to the incitement charge.

“I think it would be a disservice to the president’s own defence to get bogged down in things that really aren’t before the Senate,” Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court judge, told reporters.

Schoen also appeared on Fox News on Monday, calling the case needlessly divisive and undemocratic and said it is “the most ill-advised legislative action that I’ve seen in my lifetime”. Impeachment, Schoen said, “is the weapon they’ve tried to use against him”.

Trump is the first president in American history to be impeached twice. He was acquitted at a Senate trial last year over his contacts with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Democrats are also preparing

Nine House Democrats who will prosecute former President Trump in the trial filed their own brief on Tuesday, arguing that he pointed a mob “like a loaded cannon” toward the Capitol.

The nine Democrats, known as House impeachment managers, also rejected Republican claims that it would be unconstitutional to put Trump on trial in the Senate since he is a private citizen after leaving office on January 20.

“There is no ‘January Exception’ to impeachment or any other provision of the Constitution,” the managers said in the brief.

“He summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy, and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue. As the Capitol was overrun, President Trump was reportedly ‘delighted,'” they said.

Conviction unlikely

Convicting Trump, who is just the third US president to be impeached and the first to face trial after leaving office, would require a two-thirds vote, meaning that 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate’s 50 Democrats in voting to convict. That presents a daunting hurdle for Democrats.

Forty-five Senate Republicans voted last week in support of a measure declaring the impeachment trial unconstitutional since it is occurring after Trump has left office. A conviction could lead to a second vote banning Trump from running for office again.

Whether a Senate trial is constitutional is a point of contention because Trump is no longer in office and, if convicted, cannot be removed from an office he does not occupy. Democrats point to an 1876 impeachment of a secretary of war who had already resigned and to opinions by many legal scholars. The Senate could vote to bar Trump from holding federal office if he were convicted, which is a goal Democrats support.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies