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White House Will Say That Democrats Trying to Overturn 2016

Justin Sink

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s legal team says Democrats mounted a “brazen” bid to overturn the 2016 election, echoing the president’s aggressive posture in the first formal White House response to impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate.

Two people close to the team previewed how Trump’s lawyers plan to mount his defense over the coming weeks, largely tracking public statements the president and his aides have given during the process.

The officials spoke in a call with reporters conducted on the condition of anonymity before the six-page filing was released on Saturday That document will be followed on Monday by the team’s complete legal brief in which they expand on their arguments.

At almost the same time Saturday, the House impeachment managers filed a 111-page brief saying the president’s pattern of misconduct made him a “threat to the nation and the rule of law.” The document includes evidence the managers said “overwhelmingly” showed Trump guilty of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The White House filing denounced the House Democrats’ process as fundamentally unfair and the articles of impeachment as unconstitutional.

The document also seemed addressed as much to the president’s political supporters as it is to the U.S. Senate, arguing that the impeachment trial was “a brazen and unlawful attempt” to invalidate the votes of Americans in the 2016 election and to meddle in the 2020 election.

Trump is facing two articles of impeachment stemming from efforts to persuade Ukraine to undertake an investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.

In the impeachment resolution sent to the Senate, the House of Representatives charges that Trump “solicited interference” from Ukraine in the upcoming presidential election by pressuring the government there to publicly announce the investigation.

Impeachment Trial Deadlines Will Hint at Trump’s Defense

The House also alleges that Trump conditioned $391 million in foreign aid on Ukraine’s public announcement, compromising “the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.”

The people familiar with the president’s legal strategy said the filing was intended to challenge both the merits and constitutionality of the impeachment arguments.

“The articles of impeachment are constitutionally invalid on their face. They fail to allege any crime or violation of law whatsoever, let alone high crimes or misdemeanors,” the team says in the filing.

Trump and his lawyers have said repeatedly no such arm-twisting occurred, noting that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy denied the existence of a pressure campaign and stressing that foreign aid was eventually delivered to Ukraine despite the government never announcing an investigation into the Bidens.

The White House also argued that the president was justified in asking Ukraine to investigate possible corruption, and that his responsibilities required the president to be a good steward of public funds.

This week the non-partisan Government Accountability Office said it was illegal for Trump to withhold military aid to Ukraine -- a conclusion Trump’s legal team said it “obviously” disagrees with.

Here’s the Story on Impeachment, Trump and Ukraine: QuickTake

Separately, the impeachment resolution accuses the president of obstructing Congress because he instructed Executive Branch agencies and officials not to comply with the House of Representatives’ investigation into the Ukraine matter.

A number of key witnesses -- including former National Security Adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney -- did not comply with subpoenas or requests for testimony during the inquest, leaving Democrats without concrete proof that Trump himself had directly ordered the withholding of aid unless Ukraine launched the Biden investigations.

“Through these actions, President Trump sought to arrogate to himself the right to determine the propriety, scope, and nature of an impeachment inquiry into his own conduct,” the House argued in its impeachment resolution. The House said “no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively.”

The White House argues that Trump was relying on long-standing and bipartisan notions of executive privilege, and that the president has an institutional right to protect internal deliberations.

The White House also chided Democrats for voting on impeachment before legal challenges to the ignored subpoenas could be completed, suggesting that the obstruction charge was little more than political pretense

Once the trial brief is filed, Trump’s legal team will go live with its defense as the impeachment trial begins in earnest next week. The president’s legal team will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and the Trump’s private attorney, Jay Sekulow.

They’ll be joined by former Clinton impeachment prosecutor Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, the law professor and constitutional rights expert who gained notoriety for his efforts to defend high-profile men accused of harming women, including O.J. Simpson and Jeffrey Epstein.

Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, Trump private attorney Jane Raskin, former independent counsel Robert Ray, and Eric Herschmann, a partner at a law firm who has represented Trump in numerous cases in recent years, round out the president’s team.

The people familiar with the president’s strategy said the current plan for the trial was for Cipollone to lead off the president’s defense, with Sekulow following him. Other members of the legal team expect to give discrete presentations on specific topics.

Seven House Democrats -- iincluding Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler -- have been appointed by the House to present their case. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will oversee the proceedings, and swore in senators as jurors last week.

Those familiar with the president’s strategy described the calling of witnesses as a two-way street, saying they expected to be able to call individuals they wanted to testify if senators voted to compel White House officials to speak.

The trial is expected to begin in full on Tuesday, with a vote on rules including how many hours each side has to make their case.

Democrats are preparing to force a vote at the outset to call witnesses, including Mulvaney, Bolton, Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey and Mulvaney senior adviser Robert Blair.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to decide that issue at a later time, and appears to have the votes to withstand the bid by Democrats.

Trump’s chances of actual removal remain slim, as 67 senators are needed to remove him from office - meaning 20 Republicans would need to cross party lines to convict the president.

(Updates with White House tweets, adds reference to House legal brief in fourth paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Justin Sink in Washington at jsink1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Ros Krasny

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