Donald Trump's lawyers call for 'swift' rejection' of impeachment case in eve of trial submission

Ben Riley-Smith
Donald Trump has become only the third US president in history to face a Senate trial over whether to be removed from office - AFP

Ben Riley-Smith US Editor Donald Trump’s legal team have called on US senators to “speedily reject” the impeachment case against him, arguing that he broke no laws in a submission made just before the trial begins in earnest on Tuesday. 

The 171-page legal brief, which is the most comprehensive defence of the US president’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal to date, called the impeachment push a “rigged process” and said he “did absolutely nothing wrong”. 

Mr Trump’s lawyers argued that he cannot be guilty of abuse of power - as the first article of impeachment against him claims - because he is not accused of violating any law, unlike past presidents who have faced impeachment. 

They attempted to dismiss the second article of impeachment, that Mr Trump obstructed Congress, by arguing that he was fairly using his executive powers when rejecting legal demands for White House officials to testify to the impeachment investigation. 

The submission also contains the first detailed White House explanation for why it was legitimate for Mr Trump to ask for the Ukrainian president to investigate claims about Joe Biden, the Democrat he could face at the 2020 election. That was the trigger for impeachment. 

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Mr Trump’s lawyers said that when Mr Biden, then US vice president, sought the sacking of a Ukrainian prosecutor who once investigated the gas company his son worked for there “appeared to be, at the very least, a serious conflict of interest”. 

Therefore, the argument went, it was fair for Mr Trump to raise the issue. The Bidens have always denied any wrongdoing. Their defenders have noted Mr Biden's call for the prosecutor's removal was in line with official US government policy and shared by allies. 

There were also repeated attacks in the submission on how Democrats have pursued impeachment through the House of Representatives. They were accused of a “constitutional travesty” and “brazenly political act” that is an “affront” to American democracy. 

“The Senate should speedily reject these deficient articles of impeachment and acquit the president,” read one part of the document, authored by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow. 

“The only threat to the Constitution that House Democrats have brought to light is their own degradation of the impeachment process and trampling of the separation of powers. 

“Their fixation on damaging the president has trivialised the momentous act of impeachment, debased the standards of impeachable conduct, and perverted the power of impeachment by turning it into a partisan, election-year political tool.

“The consequences of accepting House Democrats’ diluted standards for impeachment would reverberate far beyond this election year and do lasting damage to our Republic.”

The Democrats have submitted their own lengthy justification for why Mr Trump should be removed from office, arguing that he used his presidential powers for personal gain by trying to tilt the election this November in his favour. 

On Tuesday the Senate trial over removing the president - only the third in US history - will begin in earnest, with votes setting out the rules before the Democrats begin making their case.

The Republicans, Mr Trump’s own party, hold 53 of the 100 Senate seats and so will decide how the proceedings are carried out, providing individual senators do not rebel. 

The expected proposal will be that the Democrats get 24 hours, spread across two days, to lay out their case for removing Mr Trump, followed by 24 hours for the president's legal team to spell out the defence. 

There will then be 16 hours of questions submitted in writing by the 100 senators, who will act like a jury and ultimately decide whether to remove the president. Two thirds of senators ultimately need to vote for removal for it to happen - a very high bar, making it unlikely. 

The row about whether new witnesses and evidence should be called, which has been rumbling on for weeks, could come to a head on Tuesday, with the Democrats pledging to trigger a vote on the issue. 

However the moderate Republicans who could possibly rebel and agree to witnesses have signalled that they favour a vote at the end of opening statements, so the issue will likely flare up again later in the proceedings. 

Mr Trump indicated his opposition to new witnesses, including John Bolton, his former national security adviser who Democrats want to call, on Twitter on Monday. 

“They didn’t want John Bolton and others in the House,” the president said, referring to the failure by House Democrats to get Mr Bolton to give evidence. 

“They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!”