With the beginning of Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial scheduled to begin this week, the opening salvos of both the House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team took place yesterday when each side presented their initial legal filings in the trial.
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The seven Democratic impeachment managers, led by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), outlined their case against Trump with a 46-page trial memorandum supplemented with an additional 60-page statement of facts.
The memo tells the now-familiar tale of how the president engaged in an illegal campaign to recruit a foreign government to interfere in the 2020 election in his favor, pressuring Ukraine to publicly announce investigations of Joe Biden, his leading rival for the next presidency, by dangling the threat of withholding military aid and then conspiring to hide those actions from public scrutiny.
Calling the refusal to provide evidence and allow testimony from the administration officials involved in the scheme to the House impeachment investigations “a serious danger to our constitutional checks and balances,” the Democratic document emphatically declares that “President Trump’s conduct is the framers’ worst nightmare.”
The formal response by Donald Trump’s legal team was considerably shorter than the Democrats’ detailed indictment at only six pages in length. Then again when your argument basically consists of “Yeah? So what?”, you don’t need a lot of excess verbiage to make your point.
Trump’s defense doesn’t even bother to deny the facts of the case — a smart move given the readily available evidence provided in the House investigations.
Instead, they rely on an argument straight out of the president’s Twitter feed — that the entire impeachment exercise is merely a partisan attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election, ignoring the clear criminality of Trump’s withholding of the Ukraine military aid, an act that was confirmed as unlawful by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office earlier this week.
The president’s lawyers parrotted Trump’s claims that his motivation was merely his altruistic mission to root out corruption in Ukraine and that he was well within the powers of his vision of a presidency endowed with unlimited and unrestrained executive control to do whatever the hell he wanted to.
“President Trump categorically and unequivocally denies each and every allegation in both articles of impeachment,” wrote White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow.
The House impeachment managers were less than impressed with Trump’s opening defense claiming that he was just expanding his swamp-draining mission to Ukraine in some version of anti-corruption manifest destiny.
Besides the fact that the Trump administration has been hardly the high-watermark of ethical behavior — given the number of scandal-ridden cabinet members who have been forced to resign due to their corrupt actions — the blatant self-interest displayed by the evidence that Trump was more interested in harming his domestic political rival than cleaning up the Ukraine energy industry is undeniable by anyone outside the president’s defense team.
“It is not [an effort to fight corruption],” the Democratic impeachment managers wrote. “Rather it is corruption itself, naked, unapologetic and insidious.”
Trump’s team still has until noon on Monday to file a more detailed response to the Democrats’ opening filing, and then the House team will have a day to submit a written rebuttal to that brief. Unless some procedural maneuvers delay the process, the Democrats will begin to present the case for removing Trump from office beginning on Wednesday.
With new evidence continuing to be uncovered nearly every day — thanks to the decision by Rudy Giuliani associate in Ukraine subterfuge Lev Parnas to cooperate with the impeachment investigation — it remains to be seen whether a sufficient number of GOP senators will find the intestinal fortitude to agree to call witnesses in the trial, a development that the White House is fighting against as hard as it can.
However, even leading Trump acolyte Senator Lindsey Graham now admits that the idea of simply dismissing the House charges without debate or testimony is “dead for practical purposes,” as he told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday this morning.
For his part, Trump tweeted out a brave declaration of Republican unity on the eve of his momentous trial.
I have never seen the Republican Party as Strong and as Unified as it is right now. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 19, 2020
While some may interpret the tweet as a bold and confident prediction of party solidarity that will result in a quick dismissal of the House impeachment charges, others see a desperate plea disguised by a brave face.
Luckily we won’t have to wait too long to see which interpretation is correct.
Original reporting by Michael D. Shear and