The White House defense team has until noon Monday to file its legal brief outlining why the president should be acquitted.
The House’s legal filing reiterates the findings of the House Intelligence and Judiciary panels, which, after hearing from witnesses and experts, charged Trump last month with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The House impeached him on Dec. 18.
“The evidence overwhelmingly establishes that he is guilty of both,” the managers wrote in the brief. “The only remaining question is whether the members of the Senate will accept and carry out the responsibility placed on them by the Framers of our Constitution and their constitutional Oaths.”
Trump’s legal team released a seven-page response to the charges against Trump, which it filed shortly after the House made its brief public, dismissing the case as a “dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their president.”
Echoing months-long criticism of the investigation by Trump and his allies, the White House said the charges were the result of a “lawless process” and assailed House Democrats for a “transparently political act.”
In the White House response, lawyers Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone said there was no basis for either article of impeachment. They argued that Trump did nothing wrong in his dealings with Ukraine and that his release of a rough transcript of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “unprecedented transparency.”
“The articles of impeachment violate the Constitution. They are defective in their entirety,” the White House said.
The response from Trump’s legal team did not directly address the allegations against the president — that he withheld a White House meeting and congressionally appropriated aid to pressure Ukraine into announcing and launching investigations into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
A House aide working on the impeachment case who was not authorized to speak publicly about it said Trump’s position as set forth in the response filed Saturday was “not just wrong, but dangerous.”
“If the president were correct, it would represent a fundamental alteration to the American constitutional order,” the aide said on a conference call with reporters.
The Democrats’ brief — which the House framed as an explanation of “why the Senate should convict and remove President Trump from office, and permanently bar him from government service” — reiterates and summarizes arguments that Democrats have made for months: that Trump’s alleged effort to trade nearly $400 million of U.S. security aid and a coveted White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for politically motivated investigations is the height of constitutional malfeasance.
The Ukraine plot, the House managers argue, was compounded by Trump’s effort to obstruct the congressional probe by defying subpoenas for documents and testimony.
“If the President could both avoid accountability under the criminal laws and preclude an effective impeachment investigation, he would truly be above the law,” they wrote. “But that is what President Trump has attempted to do, and why President Trump’s conduct is the Framers’ worst nightmare.”
The impeachment inquiry began after an intelligence agency whistleblower reported the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky in which Trump asked Zelensky to do him a “favor” and investigate Biden and his son. Hunter Biden sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president to Barack Obama.
The meat of the 111-page filing is a constitutional argument for Trump’s conviction and removal, one that frequently appeals to the nation’s Founding Fathers and their warnings about foreign influence on domestic matters.
“The Framers therefore would have considered a President’s attempt to corrupt America’s democratic processes by demanding political favors from foreign powers to be a singularly pernicious act,” the managers wrote, adding that “they would have viewed a President’s efforts to encourage foreign election interference as all the more dangerous where, as here, those efforts are part of an ongoing pattern of misconduct for which the President is unrepentant.”
Most of the brief, however, is a recitation of key “material facts” gathered in the four-month House investigation, citing the dozens of depositions and hearings the investigating committees conducted from October into December, but also media reports about Trump’s comments and actions relevant to the Ukraine affair.
Absent from the brief is how or whether the House managers will use the trove of text messages and other materials gathered from Lev Parnas, the former associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s who acted as an intermediary between Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and officials in Ukraine. Parnas claimed in recent days that Trump was aware of “everything” he and Giuliani were doing to pressure Ukraine to open a public investigation into Biden.
There’s only one reference to Parnas in the footnotes, crediting him with handing over a letter from Giuliani to Zelensky in which Giuliani requested a meeting in his capacity “as personal counsel to President Trump, and with his knowledge and consent” to discuss a “specific request.”
The brief also cites an opinion from the Government Accountability Office that was issued after the articles were transmitted to the Senate, in which the GAO said the administration’s withholding of aid from Ukraine was unlawful.
In seven instances, the House brief refers to the evidence against Trump as “overwhelming” or “compelling,” arguing that the House has gathered enough proof of the malfeasance the managers allege against Trump. The managers do not, in the brief, make the argument that has dominated the past four weeks since the House adopted the articles of impeachment — that the Senate should hear from additional witnesses at trial, such as former national security adviser John Bolton.
House aides who briefed reporters Saturday on the condition of anonymity said they expected the managers to make that case separately Tuesday, as the Senate discusses trial rules, which will be written by McConnell to delay the decision on summoning witnesses and additional evidence until after the two sides present their opening arguments. That debate is expected to take up most of Tuesday’s floor time, and could stretch beyond it.