Democrats bash Trump impeachment defense: ‘His misconduct is indefensible’
House Democrats on Tuesday bashed the White House’s line of defense in the impeachment of President Trump, saying that Trump’s lawyers, rather than exculpating the president, have in fact validated the case for his removal.
“President Trump’s brief confirms that his misconduct is indefensible,” the seven Democratic impeachment managers wrote in a 32-page memo responding to the White House trial brief, which was unveiled exactly 24 hours earlier.
The new response is the last of the formal documents to be passed between the two sides ahead of the launch of the Senate trial, set to begin in earnest on Tuesday afternoon.
The Democrats’ impeachment case rests on the allegation that Trump last year had withheld vital military aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure that country’s leaders to open a pair of investigations that might have helped the president politically. Last month, the House impeached Trump on charges of abusing his power for personal gain, and then obstructing Congress as Democrats sought to investigate the episode.
Trump’s legal team laid out its defense on Monday, arguing that Trump could not have abused his office since the military aid in question was ultimately delivered without Ukrainian leaders announcing the probes Trump sought. Even if Trump did abuse his office, the team continued, that’s not an impeachable offense because it violates no specific federal law.
“By limiting impeachment to cases of ‘Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ the Framers restricted impeachment to specific offenses against ‘already known and established law,’” Trump’s team wrote in its 110-page trial brief. “That was a deliberate choice designed to constrain the impeachment power.”
That interpretation of the Constitution’s impeachment powers is widely disputed by legal scholars and historians, many of whom contend that the nation’s founders never intended impeachment to be limited to criminal violations of law. Indeed, even Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump’s legal team, had argued during the 1999 trial of President Clinton that “you don’t need a technical crime” to remove a president “if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust.”
“It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime,” he said at the time. Dershowitz has since said he’s changed his position.
Democrats are latching on to the essence of Dershowitz’s 1999 argument, maintaining that abuse of power — in the form of a president asking foreign leaders to meddle in a U.S. election — is just the type of violation the founders had in mind in establishing impeachment to begin with.
“There can be no reasonable dispute,” they wrote, “that the Framers would have considered a President’s solicitation of a foreign country’s election interference in exchange for critical American military and diplomatic support to be an impeachable offense.”
Democrats, in their response, also emphasized that the president’s defense team has chosen to focus its rebuttal on the procedures of the House impeachment process, not on the merits of the charges laid against him.
“President Trump’s lengthy brief to the Senate is heavy on rhetoric and procedural grievances, but entirely lacks a legitimate defense of his misconduct,” they argue. [T]here is no defense for a President who seeks foreign election interference to retain power and then attempts to cover it up by obstructing a Congressional inquiry.”
They also disputed that there were any procedural flaws in their process, but even if there were, the Senate has a separate duty that could rectify an unfair impeachment process in the House.
“There was no procedural flaw in the House’s impeachment inquiry. But even assuming there were, that would be irrelevant to the Senate’s separate exercise of its ‘sole Power to try all Impeachments,’” they write. “Any imagined defect in the House’s previous proceedings could be cured when the evidence is presented to the Senate at trial.”
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