Trump lawyers attack House impeachment as ‘brazen and unlawful’ effort to overturn 2016 results
President Trump’s legal team on Saturday declared the impeachment articles approved by the House “constitutionally invalid” and accused House Democrats of a “brazen and unlawful attempt” to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential election.
The president’s team of lawyers — led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow — submitted a six-page answer to the summons notifying the president of the Senate impeachment trial Saturday evening.
The filing launches a broadside against the House impeachment process, while denying the charges against the president and casting the articles as an “affront” to the Constitution, democratic institutions and the American people. The president’s lawyers urge the Senate to reject the charges.
“The articles of impeachment submitted by House Democrats are a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their president,” the president’s lawyers argue in their first formal response to the Senate.
“This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election — now just months away,” they write.
The Democrat-led House voted last month to approve articles accusing Trump of abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstructing the congressional inquiry into those dealings. House Democrats accuse Trump of trying to pressure Ukraine to open investigations that could benefit him politically.
Saturday’s response asserts that the articles of impeachment fail to allege a crime or violation of the law and are therefore invalid. The Constitution states that presidents can be impeached and removed from office for what lawmakers deem “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The filing also rails against the House process as “rigged”, arguing that the articles are “the product of invalid proceedings that flagrantly denied the president any due process rights.”
“Nothing in these Articles could permit even beginning to consider removing a duly elected President or warrant nullifying an election and subverting the will of the American people,” the filing states. “They must be rejected.”
The president’s answer to the articles, which is distinct from the legal brief the team will issue by a Monday deadline, offers a window into some of the arguments that Trump’s legal team is likely to make at the looming Senate trial, though the lawyers have kept their plans closely held.
The document also denies the charges against Trump, asserting that the first article – accusing Trump of abuse of power – fails to state an impeachable offense.
The lawyers proceed by arguing that Trump has “faithfully and effectively executed the duties of his Office on behalf of the American people,” stating that his actions on and related to his calls with Ukraine’s president “were constitutional, perfectly legal, completely appropriate, and taken in furtherance of our national interest.”
The filing also argues that Trump was asserting legitimate executive branch confidentiality interests in instructing top aides not to testify in the impeachment inquiry and not producing documents pursuant to congressional subpoenas – which form the basis for Democrats’ allegation that he obstructed Congress.
The arguments put forth Saturday echo past letters written by Cipollone, who has been leading the president’s response to impeachment since House Democrats unveiled the inquiry in late September, as well as arguments against the impeachment case and process offered by the White House and the president’s allies on Capitol Hill.
In a statement, the House impeachment managers, led by Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), accused Trump of refusing to “honestly address” the “powerful evidence” against him demonstrating he abused his power.
“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 reelection is the President’s way of fighting corruption. It is not,” the managers said. “Rather it is corruption itself, naked, unapologetic and insidious. This is precisely why the President must be removed from office.”
Trump’s attorneys refused to participate in the House inquiry, accusing House Democrats of an unfair process and politically motivated effort.
Trump was issued a summons informing him of the charges after the Senate officially opened the trial on Thursday.
The impeachment trial is set to begin in earnest on Tuesday, when senators will debate and vote on a resolution laying out the rules for the trial.
Democrats allege that Trump sought to use a White House meeting and military aid to Ukraine to pressure Kyiv to launch investigations that could benefit his reelection campaign.
Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong and did not pressure Ukraine, describing his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the center of the case as “perfect.” Trump has also said he temporarily withheld nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine because he was concerned European countries weren’t contributing enough to the country.
Trump asked Zelensky to look into the dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine during the July 25 phone call, according to a rough transcript released by the White House. The call triggered an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that was later sent to the House alleging Trump sought foreign interference in the 2020 election.
Trump’s lawyers dismissed allegations Trump abused his office, arguing Saturday that Trump was acting in the interest of the country and raised “important” issues of burden sharing and corruption on the call.
Trump did not say the word corruption on the call, according to the rough transcript, but the president and the White House have argued that he raised the Bidens and the DNC server because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.
Biden is one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Witnesses who testified in the impeachment inquiry described an effort by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and others within the administration to press Ukraine to open investigations into 2016 election interference and Burisma, a Ukrainian gas firm whose board employed Hunter Biden.
Trump’s legal team issued its response just as House Democrats outlined their case for impeachment and removal in a 111-page brief, days before opening arguments will begin in the trial.
A number of things remain uncertain about the trial, including whether the upper chamber will call any witnesses and how much time each side will have to make their arguments. The Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, is widely expected to acquit Trump.
The White House revealed Friday that Trump would add legal firepower to his impeachment defense team, bringing on Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, who investigated former President Clinton as independent counsel during Whitewater, to play roles in the trial.
The team, led by Cipollone and Sekulow, will also include Robert Ray, who succeeded Starr as independent counsel; Jane Raskin, who represented Trump during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation; and Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general who is a special adviser to the president.
Updated on Jan. 19 at 10:37 a.m.