Lawyers acting on behalf of Donald Trump on Monday branded the impeachment case against him “flimsy” and a “dangerous perversion of the constitution”, setting the stage for the opening of his long-awaited Senate trial on Tuesday.
As the president prepared to jet off to Davos, where he is set to give a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, the White House submitted its formal trial defence brief, a 110-page document in which it also claimed the impeachment process has been a “charade” and insisted Trump did “absolutely nothing wrong” in his dealings with Ukraine.
The brief – submitted as a counter to a document filed by the House Democrats on Saturday – presented the most thorough outline to date of the lines of defence that Trump’s lawyers plan to use against the case to remove the president at his congressional trial, scheduled to begin in the US Senate on Tuesday.
“The articles of impeachment now before the Senate are an affront to the constitution and to our democratic institutions,” his legal team wrote, adding: “The articles themselves – and the rigged process that brought them here – are a brazenly political act by House Democrats that must be rejected. They debase the grave power of impeachment and disdain the solemn responsibility that power entails.”
Trump and his legal team urge a swift resolution to the trial, concluding with Trump’s decisive acquittal on a vote by the Republicans who dominate the Senate.
Monday’s brief added: “The process that brought the articles here violated every precedent and every principle of fairness followed in impeachment inquiries for more than 150 years. Even so, all that House Democrats have succeeded in proving is that the president did absolutely nothing wrong.”
(April 1, 2019)
Through his personal emissary, Rudy Giuliani, Trump applies pressure on Ukraine to announce investigations tied to Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The Ukrainian president-elect, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, meets with subordinates to discuss how to stay out of it.
(July 3, 2019)
Lt Col Alexander Vindman, top adviser on Ukraine on the National Security Council, is made aware of the suspension of military aid for Ukraine.
(July 10, 2019)
Trump emissaries at the White House ask top Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden, shocking US national security officials. According to multiple accounts, after EU ambassador Gordon Sondland makes the Biden ask, then national security adviser John Bolton abruptly terminates the meeting, later calling it a “drug deal”. The Office of Management and Budget later informs the Pentagon and state department that Trump has suspended $391m in military aid for Ukraine.
(July 25, 2019)
Trump speaks on the phone with Zelenskiy, reminding him that “the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine” and then asking for a “favor”. Trump wants Ukraine to announce investigations designed to make Joe Biden look bad and to cast doubt on Russian tampering in the 2016 US election.
(August 12, 2019)
A whistleblower complaint against Trump is secretly filed to the inspector general of the intelligence community. For six weeks, the Trump administration will block Congress from obtaining the complaint.
(September 1, 2019)
Bilateral meetings in Warsaw, Poland. In testimony, Sondland says, “I now recall speaking individually with [Zelenskiy aide Andriy] Yermak, where I said that resumption of US aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
(September 24, 2019)
Nancy Pelosi announces a formal impeachment inquiry, accusing Trump of “a betrayal of his oath of office, a betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections”. The following day, the White House releases a partial “transcript” of the 25 July call, hours before Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Zelenskiy at the United Nations.
(September 26, 2019)
The whistleblower complaint is released. Citing “more than half-a-dozen US officials”, it presents an accurate version of the Trump-Zelenskiy call and alleges that the White House tried to cover up the call.
(October 8, 2019)
The White House releases a letter refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, and accusing Democrats of trying to reverse the result of the 2016 election.
(November 3, 2019)
The House votes on a resolution laying out a process to move impeachment from closed-door depositions to open hearings.
(November 5, 2019)
The impeachment committees begin releasing testimony transcripts. The overlapping testimonies tell the same story, of demands by US officials of Ukraine steadily ratcheting up between May and September, from a demand to investigate corruption to a demand that “President Zelenskiy to go to a microphone and say ‘investigations’, ‘Biden’, and ‘Clinton’.”
(November 13, 2019)
Public impeachment hearings begin with the testimony of ambassador Bill Taylor and deputy assistant secretary of state George P Kent. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch follows on 15 November.
(December 7, 2019)
The House judiciary committee releases a report on the constitutional grounds for impeachment on Saturday. Shortly after that, Donald Trump once again insists the whole thing is a “witch-hunt” and “a total hoax”
(December 10, 2019)
Democrats unveil articles of impeachment against Trump, concerning abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
(December 13, 2019)
A day after the House judiciary committee abruptly postponed a historic vote to advance articles of impeachment following a 14-hour meeting that devolved into a rancorous, deeply partisan debate that stretched late into the night, it reconvenes and votes to move the two articles to the House floor.
(December 18, 2019)
The House of Representatives prepares to approve articles of impeachment against a president for only the third time.
(January 16, 2020)
Trump's impeachment trial formally starts, as the US Government Accountability Office finds suspension of military aid at the president’s direction violated the law.
Tom McCarthy and Martin Belam
The Democrats’ case centres around a 25 July phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump asked his counterpart to do him a “favour” and investigate both a conspiracy theory concerning election interference and ties between the former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter and the eastern European country.
Monday’s brief stated that the two articles do not amount to impeachable offenses and that the inquiry was not aimed at looking for the truth.
“Instead, 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,” wrote Trump’s legal team. “All of that is a dangerous perversion of the constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn.”
They also claimed that the articles of impeachment are “structurally deficient” because they charge multiple acts and accused Democrats of watering down the grounds for impeachment.
It comes after the House impeachment managers, who will act as prosecutors in Trump’s trial, released their own legal brief on Saturday in a 111-page document.
In a joint statement, the House managers, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Hakeem Jeffries, Val Demings, Jason Crow and Sylvia Garcia, said the case against Trump is “simple, the facts are indisputable and the evidence is overwhelming: President Trump abused the power of his office to solicit foreign interference in our elections for his own personal political gain, thereby jeopardizing our national security, the integrity of our elections and our democracy”.
They added: “And when the president got caught, he tried to cover it up by obstructing the House’s investigation into his misconduct.”
Trump’s legal team issued an initial response on Saturday that claimed the impeachment articles are “constitutionally invalid” and “a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election – now just months away”.
The House of Representatives now has until midday Tuesday to respond to Trump’s defense – an hour before the start of the impeachment trial, scheduled for 1pm.
Senators, who will act as the jury, will then sit six days a week, Monday to Saturday, between 1pm and 5 or 6pm ET.
With a Republican-controlled Senate and a two-thirds majority needed to convict on either of the two articles – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – it appears highly unlikely that Trump will be removed. However, Democrats only need four Republicans to form a majority to win votes over rules and witnesses.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said on Sunday that he wants to hold a vote on Tuesday on whether witnesses and additional evidence will be allowed to be brought before the trial if the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, does not include them in his proposal.
On Monday morning Trump appeared to tweet in response, saying: “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 added: “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer is now asking for ‘fairness’, when he and the Democrat House members worked together to make sure I got ZERO fairness in the House. So, what else is new?”
The White House document advises the Senate to “speedily reject these deficient articles of impeachment and acquit the president”.