Donald Trump’s attorneys denied Tuesday that the former president caused a crowd to storm the Capitol or that he tried to prevent Congress from confirming President Joe Biden’s victory at the electoral college.
The arguments came a week before Trump’s unprecedented second impeachment trial is due to begin in the Senate. Trump was charged in the house last month for an article inciting a riot.
Earlier on Tuesday, nine Democratic House impeachment executives shared an 80-page trial in which they set out their arguments for condemning Trump and preventing him from ever holding federal office again.
These impeachment managers argued that Trump was “personally responsible” for instigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol that killed five people and forced evacuation through a joint congressional session, undermining their efforts to confirm Biden’s victory .
Trump urged his supporters, during a rally outside the White House just before the session of Congress, to march to the Capitol and press Republican lawmakers to object to the election results. Trump repeatedly urged then Vice President Mike Pence, who led the process, to take action to prevent Biden’s victory from being certified.
“If you don’t fight like hell, you will have no more land,” Trump told the crowd. The House’s impeachment executives took this statement and numerous others from the rally as evidence that Trump was using rhetoric that was “designed to incite violence.”
But Trump’s attorneys Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen said in a 14-page file that the sentence had nothing to do with “the Capitol action, as it clearly concerns the need for electoral security in general fight”.
“It is denied that President Trump encouraged destructive behavior in the crowd,” they wrote. “It is denied that President Trump intended to interfere with the vote count.”
Castor and Schoen joined Trump’s legal defense a few days ago after reports that a previous group of lawyers had left the team.
They also argued that since Trump was no longer president, impeachment proceedings should be dismissed immediately as the constitution “requires that a person who actually holds office be charged”.
The House Democrats had anticipated this argument by Trump’s team and wrote in their own letter that “it is unthinkable” that the drafters of the Constitution “left us virtually defenseless against a president’s betrayal in his final days in order to allow him to power to abuse and hurt his. ” Oath and incitement to revolt against Congress and our electoral institutions, simply because he’s a lame duck. “
“There is no ‘January exception’ for impeachment or any other provision of the Constitution,” argued the Democrats. “A president must respond comprehensively to his conduct in office from the first to the last day of his term of office.”
The majority of Republicans in the Senate appear to agree with Trump’s lawyers. 45 GOP senators voted last week to reject the process as unconstitutional.
Legal scholars have found that there is a precedent for impeachment after a person resigns from office. They refer to the 1876 case involving Secretary of War William Belknap, who resigned just before the House decided to charge him with corruption charges. The House voted to indict him, but he was acquitted by the Senate.
Democrats who hold 50 seats in the Senate must persuade at least 17 Republicans to vote with them to condemn Trump.
The impeachment executives also accused Trump of spending the months following his November loss telling lies about election fraud and falsely claiming that he won the race “by landslide”.
In the impeachment proceedings against Trump it is said that the statements of the former president “encouraged – and predictably resulted in – lawless action in the Capitol.”
Trump’s attorneys replied, “There is not enough evidence to allow a reasonable lawyer to conclude that the 45th President’s statements were correct or not, and he therefore denies that they were false.”
They added that Trump’s speech was protected by the guarantees of the Constitution: “If the first amendment only protected speech that the government deems popular in contemporary American culture, it would be no protection at all.”
Castor and Schoen also struggled with the election of Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and senior Senate lawmaker, to preside over the process.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, oversaw Trump’s first impeachment, as required by the Constitution. Roberts, however, declined to take on the same role for Trump’s second trial, as the constitution does not have such a mandate for the impeachment of a former president.
Trump’s attorneys complained in their letter that Roberts “has been replaced by a partisan senator who will supposedly also serve as a juror while deciding on certain issues.”
“The actions of the House of Representatives, therefore, should ensure that Chief Justice John Roberts does not lead the trial,” they wrote, “which effectively creates the added appearance of bias as the trial is now overseen by a Senate partisan member with a long history of history public statements against the 45th President. “