WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump on Monday (Jan 20) rejected Democratic-led House of Representatives’ impeachment charges as an affront to the US Constitution in a pre-trial brief that was as much a political case against removing him as it was a legal defence.
The 13-page executive summary sought to undercut charges the Republican president abused his power and obstructed Congress and it constituted Trump’s first comprehensive defence before his Senate trial begins in earnest on Tuesday.
“The Senate should speedily reject these deficient articles of impeachment and acquit the president,” it said.
Trump, only the fourth of 45 American presidents to face the possibility of being ousted by impeachment, is charged with abusing the powers of his office by asking Ukraine to investigate a Democratic political rival, Joe Biden, and obstructing a congressional inquiry into his conduct.
Democrats say Trump abused his power by withholding US military assistance to Ukraine as part of a pressure campaign and obstructed Congress by refusing to hand over documents and barring administration officials from testifying, even when subpoenaed by House investigators.
Trump’s defence boiled down to the argument that neither charge constituted a crime or impeachable offence and that he was within his rights as president to make decisions about foreign policy and what information to give Congress.
“House Democrats settled on two flimsy Articles of Impeachment that allege no crime or violation of law whatsoever – much less “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” as required by the Constitution,” it said. “They do not remotely approach the constitutional threshold for removing a President from office.”
The executive summary asserted that the House Democrats’ “novel theory of ‘abuse of power’” was not an impeachable offence and supplanted the Constitutional standard of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” It rejected the obstruction of Congress charge as “frivolous and dangerous,” saying the president exercised his legal rights by resisting congressional demands for information, also known as subpoenas.
“House Democrats propose removing the President from office because he asserted legal rights and privileges of the Executive Branch against defective subpoenas – based on advice from the Department of Justice,” it said. “Accepting that theory would do lasting damage to the separation of powers” between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
It also accused the House Democrats of conducting a rigged process, said they succeeded in proving only that Trump had done nothing wrong and argued, as the White House has repeatedly, that this was an effort to overturn Trump’s 2016 election victory and to prevent his re-election in November.
While the Republican-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to remove Trump from office, it is important for him to try to diminish the Democratic accusations to limit political damage to his bid for a second term.
“They want to use impeachment to interfere in the 2020 election. It is no accident that the Senate is being asked to consider a presidential impeachment during an election year,”the brief said.
“Put simply, Democrats have no response to the President’s record of achievement in restoring prosperity to the American economy, rebuilding America’s military, and confronting America’s adversaries abroad,” it added.
In a filing with the US Senate on Monday, the House impeachment “managers” who will make the Democrats case for Trump’s removal said the president had “jeopardised our national security and our democratic self-governance.”
“President Trump maintains that the Senate cannot remove him even if the House proves every claim in the Articles of impeachment. That is a chilling assertion. It is also dead wrong,” they wrote, arguing that despite Trump’s “stonewalling” the House had amassed “overwhelming evidence of his guilt.”
Trump’s legal team says he was well within his constitutional authority to press Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky last year to investigate Biden and his son Hunter as part of what Trump says was an anti-corruption drive.
The Bidens deny any wrongdoing and Trump’s allegations have been widely debunked.
Seeking to show he is still conducting presidential business despite the trial, Trump is scheduled to depart late on Monday for Davos, Switzerland, to join global leaders at the World Economic Forum. Some advisers had argued against him making the trip.