Trump, House Shape Impeachment Strategy With Public in Mind


(Bloomberg) -- The White House and impeachment managers from the House of Representatives each set the stage for President Donald Trump’s trial with a pair of filings on Monday, with both sides arguing that the Constitutional separation of powers is at stake.

The briefs provide the most detailed preview to date of how the president’s team plans to defend him against two impeachment charges of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power - and how House Democrats will look to torque up pressure on Senate Republicans all but assured to acquit Trump.

The president’s 171-page filing contends that the House failed to prove that the president explicitly linked aid for Ukraine to an investigation Trump sought into political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden. And the president’s lawyers will argue that the Senate should swiftly reject the impeachment articles, according to two people working with the president’s legal team who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.

“The Articles of Impeachment presented by House Democrats are constitutionally deficient on their face,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in their filing. “The theories underpinning them would do lasting damage to the separation of powers under the Constitution and to our structure of government. The Articles are also the product of an unprecedented and unconstitutional process that denied the president every basic right.”

House impeachment managers said in their filing that their chamber “amassed overwhelming evidence” of the president’s guilt “through fair procedures rooted firmly in the Constitution and precedent.”

The House impeachment managers, led by Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, came to an empty Senate chamber Monday to prepare for their roles in the impeachment trial. They were accompanied by lawyers who advised Democrats during the impeachment inquiry — Norm Eisen and Daniel Goldman — and took no questions from reporters before walking back to the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

With both the president’s supporters and opponents acknowledging that his removal from office is unlikely -- at least 20 Republican senators would need to defect -- the filings appeared as tailored to the American public as the lawmakers weighing Trump’s fate, with each side accusing one another of unprecedented abuses of power.

President’s Defense

Central to the president’s defense outlined in the brief is the argument that Trump did not violate the law by withholding $391 million in taxpayer-funded assistance to Ukraine. Democrats say Trump used that aid as leverage to force a politically motivated investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter.

Trump’s legal team argues that the House failed to find a witness who heard the president condition U.S. assistance on the investigation, instead basing their arguments on hearsay and assumptions by other witnesses.

“House Democrats do not have a single witness who claims, based on direct knowledge, that the President ever actually imposed such a condition,” the brief says.

They contend that House impeachment managers must prove that the president even mentioning his concerns over corruption or an uncorroborated conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election is somehow illegal.

And people working with the president’s legal team contend that a recent finding by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office that Trump violated the law in withholding the aid is irrelevant. They argue that the House didn’t include mention of the GAO report, or new statements by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in their charging document.

Democrats contend that the new evidence “confirms” their indictment, and argue that the evidence shows “a cover-up and consciousness of guilt” by a president who has been “caught red-handed.”

‘Unprecedented’ Demands

The president’s legal team also rejected Democrats’ arguments that Trump undertook “an unprecedented campaign” to obstruct the congressional investigation into his conduct. They argue that the White House routinely blocks lawmakers from interviewing senior administration officials to preserve the president’s institutional rights, and that being removed for office for that would shift the separation of power.

“House Democrats have essentially announced that they may treat any resistance to their demands as ‘obstruction’ without taking any steps to resolve their dispute with the president,” the president’s lawyers wrote. “Accepting that unprecedented approach would fundamentally damage the separation of powers by making the House itself the sole judge of its authority. It would permit Congress to threaten every president with impeachment merely for protecting the prerogatives of the presidency.”

House managers contend that Trump’s “categorical and indiscriminate” order to executive branch employees is unprecedented in impeachment inquiries, and that the House should have extraordinary oversight reach in impeachment cases.

“The Framers explicitly stated that betrayal involving foreign powers is a core impeachable offense,” the House managers wrote. “It follows that the House is empowered to investigate such abuses.”

Witness Dispute

The formal trial is expected to begin Tuesday with an announcement of proposed rules by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a bid by his counterpart, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, to guarantee testimony from additional witnesses. Schumer has said senators should hear from top White House officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who refused to cooperate with the House probe.

The president’s lawyers have indicated that if Democrats pursue additional witness testimony, they would want to subpoena Biden and his son, whose time serving on the corporate board of Ukrainian energy giant Burisma Holdings would have been the focus of the investigation proposed by the president’s allies.

“If we call one witness, we’re going to call all the witnesses -- there’s not going to be a process where the Democrats get their witnesses and the president gets shut out,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

McConnell is expected to offer a format that would give House impeachment managers 24 hours over two days to present their case, Senator David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” The president’s defenders would then be given an equal amount of time to mount their defense.

In a further indication that the president’s team sees their defense more oriented to voters than senators in the chamber, the White House announced that a number of high-profile lawyers who make regular appearances on cable television -- including Harvard Law emeritus professor Alan Dershowitz, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and former Clinton impeachment prosecutor Ken Starr -- would be presenting elements of their defense.

The format also requires senators to attend and relinquish their mobile phones during the trial. And Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination -- including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota -- will be forced off the campaign trail.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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