Congressional Democrats called Donald Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal the “worst nightmare” of America’s founding fathers, as they filed a lengthy legal brief setting the stage for the heart of the US president’s impeachment trial to begin next week.
The brief by the so-called impeachment “managers” — a group of Democratic lawmakers from the House of Representatives who will be acting as the prosecution in the proceedings against Mr Trump — comes as the US Senate prepares to hear opening arguments in the case on Tuesday.
“The case against the president of the United States 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 jeopardising our national security, the integrity of our elections and our democracy,” said the Democratic lawmakers, led by Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House judiciary committee, and Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House administration committee.
After the House voted to impeach Mr Trump in December, the focus has shifted to the US Senate, which opened its own proceedings to decide whether to convict the US president and remove him from office on Thursday. The heart of the trial will begin on Tuesday with opening arguments.
With Republicans in control of the upper chamber of Congress and the support of two-thirds of senators required to force Mr Trump out of the White House, the US president is widely expected to be acquitted.
But the White House is nonetheless mounting an aggressive defence against the charges, hiring a legal team this week including Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who led the impeachment trial against former president Bill Clinton, and Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who defended OJ Simpson, the American football player, in his high-profile murder trial.
“The articles of impeachment submitted by House Democrats are a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their president. This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election — now just months away,” Mr Trump said in a response to his summons to the impeachment trial written by Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Jay Sekulow, Mr Trump’s counsel.
The pair said the impeachment case by House Democrats was unconstitutional. “They are defective in their entirety. They are the product of invalid proceedings that flagrantly denied the president any due process rights,” the White House response said. Sources close to Mr Trump’s legal team said a full brief in his defence would come on Monday.
Democrats voted to impeach Mr Trump last month on charges of abuse of power and contempt of Congress, alleging that the US president withheld aid to Ukraine and put pressure on its most senior officials to extract domestic political gain, through an investigation into the business dealings in the country of Hunter Biden, son of former US vice-president Joe Biden. Joe Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge Mr Trump in the November presidential race.
In their legal brief, the House Democrats said it was time for senators to “eliminate the threat that the president poses to America’s national security” given Mr Trump’s conduct. “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,” they said.
Democrats in the Senate have been demanding that the Republican majority allow key witnesses, such as John Bolton, the former national security adviser, and Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, to appear as witnesses at the trial. But while Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader, and the White House, are opposed, some centrist Republicans have voiced sympathy for the idea.
The Senate trial, led by John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, will begin with opening arguments on Tuesday, and unfold over the coming weeks, ahead of next month’s Democratic presidential nomination caucus in Iowa, the first contest of the race.