Jan 19, 2020

Trump's concede-nothing defense

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump's lawyers plan to make an aggressively dismissive case when the Senate impeachment trial opens this week.

Driving the news: "President Trump categorically and unequivocally denies each and every allegation in both articles of impeachment," Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer, wrote in a seven-page response to Democrats released yesterday.

  • The document calls the articles of impeachment "constitutionally invalid on their face," and "a dangerous ... brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election."

The length and tone contrast with the 111-page, 319-footnote "Trial Memorandum" by the seven Dems who are House impeachment managers.

  • "The evidence overwhelmingly establishes that he is guilty," the Democrats write. "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."
  • "President Trump's conduct is the Framers’ worst nightmare."

Why it matters: The Trump lawyers' blanket statements, and the brevity of their arguments, suggest they have confidence that the Senate Republicans won’t let the president down when their big loyalty test comes.

  • Smart brevity on the strategy: Concede nothing, admit nothing, apologize for nothing. Talk for TV. And don’t get into the weeds.

🥊 The most extraordinary line from the document, "THE HONORABLE DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, HEREBY RESPONDS":

  • "The President's actions on the July 25, 2019, telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine ... were constitutional, perfectly legal, completely appropriate, and taken in furtherance of our national interest."

Reality check: The Government Accountability Office found that the administration broke the law by withholding Ukraine aid — funds that impeachment witnesses said were in the interest of U.S. national security.

  • Witnesses argued that the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens was a "domestic political errand," as Fiona Hill put it.
  • Rudy himself has said he was acting as the president's personal agent.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Democrats argue Trump brief "lacks a legitimate defense of his misconduct"

House impeachment managers filed Tuesday a response to the White House's 110-page "trial memorandum," arguing that the brief is "heavy on rhetoric and procedural grievances" but lacks a "legitimate defense of his misconduct."

Why it matters: This is the last brief that either side will file before the start of the impeachment trial, which kicks off with a debate on procedures and scope at 1pm Tuesday.

White House: Impeachment articles are "an affront to the Constitution"

Donald Trump on Jan. 19. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Monday has asked the Senate to “swiftly reject” the articles of impeachment against President Trump, calling them "an affront to the Constitution and to our democratic institutions."

Why it matters: The 110-page legal brief is the first glimpse into the president's defense strategy. In it his lawyers argue that neither of the two articles is valid because they do not constitute a violation of the law and only punish the president for expressing his constitutional powers.

Go deeperArrowJan 20, 2020

GAO report poses evidence test in Trump impeachment trial

House Democratic impeachment managers walk to the Senate chamber for impeachment proceedings. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A Government Accountability Office report accusing President Trump of violating the law is taking on heightened importance at the start of his impeachment trial.

Why it matters: The key argument Trump's legal team plans to make is that the articles of impeachment are deficient on their face because, unlike previous impeachment attempts, they don’t allege that Trump broke the law.

Go deeperArrowJan 21, 2020