White House Legal Brief: Impeachment a ‘Dangerous Perversion’ of Constitution

January 20, 2020 Updated: January 20, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

President Donald Trump’s legal team asserted Monday that the House Democrats’ impeachment case against the president is frivolous and a “dangerous perversion of the Constitution,” while again saying Trump did “absolutely nothing wrong,” setting the tone for the potentially weeks-long Senate trial.

In a brief that was submitted to the Senate before the trial will start Tuesday, Trump’s lawyers will make the argument that both articles of impeachment against the president were constitutionally deficient, while potentially endangering the future office of the presidency and upsetting the government’s balance of power.

“House Democrats were determined from the outset to find some way—any way—to corrupt the extraordinary power of impeachment for use as a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “All of that is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn.”

The Trump legal team’s filing comes after House Democrats submitted their own brief that essentially summarized weeks of testimony from witnesses.

“The process that brought these articles of impeachment to the Senate” was “completely unprecedented” in U.S. history, said a source working with Trump’s legal team in a conference call. The source said that every presidential impeachment inquiry has “involved basic due process” protections for the accused, while arguing that Trump was given none of these rights by House Democrats during the inquiry late last year.

The same source echoed House Republicans’ claims during the inquiry that only one of the witnesses involved in the case, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, actually spoke to the president. What’s more, the source said House managers will not be able to provide a single witness who had direct knowledge of an alleged quid pro quo scheme between Trump and Ukraine’s leadership, as Democrats have alleged throughout the inquiry.

“It is the president who defines foreign policy, not the unelected bureaucrats who are his subordinates,” his team will argue. “Any theory of an impeachable offense that turns on ferreting out supposedly ‘constitutionally improper’ motives by measuring the president’s policy decisions against a purported interagency consensus is both fundamentally anti-democratic and an absurdly impermissible inversion of the constitutional structure.”

Democrats’ impeachment case accuses Trump of abusing his power by withholding military aid from Ukraine while he was pushing to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and Ukraine-based energy company Burisma Holdings, of which the younger Biden sat on the board. They have also alleged Trump obstructed Congress by not sufficiently cooperating with their inquiry.

Trump on Monday signaled on Twitter that he opposes the use of witnesses: “They didn’t want John Bolton and others in the House. They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!” He was referring to his former national security adviser, John Bolton, who indicated earlier this month that he would be willing to testify in the trial if he were subpoenaed.

The House impeachment managers, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), responded to the White House’s filing on Monday afternoon.

“President Trump has engaged in the trifecta of constitutional misconduct warranting removal,” the managers wrote in response. “He is the Framers’ worst nightmare come to life.”

Their filing argued: “President Trump did not engage in this corrupt conduct to uphold the Presidency or protect the right to vote. He did it to cheat in the next election and bury the evidence when he got caught.”

Over the weekend, the House management team filed their first brief with the Senate ahead of the trial, which is slated to start Tuesday and run for several weeks. Senators are expected to work six days per week.