Trump’s lawyers: Abuse of power not a crime

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AP) — President Donald Trump’s legal team asserted yesterday that he did “absolutely nothing wrong”, urging the Senate to swiftly reject an impeachment case

that it called “flimsy” and a “dangerous perversion of the Constitution”. The lawyers decried the impeachment process as rigged and insisted that abuse of power was not a crime.

The brief from Trump’s lawyers, filed before arguments expected this week in the Senate impeachment trial, offered the most detailed glimpse of the lines of defence they intend to use against Democratic efforts to convict the president and oust him from office over his dealings with Ukraine. It is meant as a counter to a filing two days ago from House Democrats that summarised weeks of testimony from more than a dozen witnesses in laying out the impeachment case.

The 110-page filing from the White House shifted the tone toward a more legal response. It still hinged on Trump’s assertion he did nothing wrong and did not commit a crime, even though impeachment does not depend on a material violation of law but rather on the more vague definition of “other high crimes and misdemeanours” as established in the US Constitution.

“It is a constitutional travesty,” the lawyers wrote.

The prosecution team of House managers was spending another day on Capitol Hill preparing for the trial, which will be under heavy security. Before the filing, House prosecutors made their way through crowds of tourists in the rotunda to tour the Senate chamber.

In their own filing yesterday, House prosecutors replied to Trump’s not guilty plea by making fresh demands for a fair trial in the Senate, where the Republican majority aligned with Trump has not yet disclosed the rules.

“President Trump asserts that his impeachment is a partisan ‘hoax’. He is wrong,” the prosecutors wrote in their reply.

They wrote that the president can’t have it both ways – rejecting the facts of the House case but also stonewalling congressional subpoenas for witnesses and testimony. “Senators must honour their own oaths by holding a fair trial with all relevant evidence,” they wrote.

The White House document yesterday, much more fulsome than its weekend pleading, says the two articles of impeachment brought against the president — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — don’t amount to impeachment offences. It asserts that the impeachment inquiry, centred on Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president open an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden, was never about finding 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,” Trump’s legal team wrote. “All of that is a dangerous perversion of the constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn.”

The impeachment case accuses Trump of abusing power by withholding military aid from Ukraine at the same time that he was seeking an investigation into Biden, and of obstructing Congress by instructing Administration officials not to appear for testimony or provide documents, defying congressional subpoenas.

In a brief filed Saturday, House Democrats called Trump’s conduct the “worst nightmare” of the framers of the US Constitution.

“President Donald J Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign Government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain,” the House prosecutors wrote, “and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.”

But Trump’s team contended yesterday that even if Trump were to have abused his power in withholding the Ukraine military assistance, it would not be impeachable, because it did not violate a specific criminal statute. And it said that the White House was within its legal right to shield close advisers of the president from having to appear before Congress, saying that position has been taken by Administrations of both parties.

Opening arguments are expected within days following a debate today over rules, including about whether witnesses are to be called in the trial.

Trump signalled his opposition to witnesses, tweeting Monday: “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!”

That’s a reference to former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who was not subpoenaed by the House in its impeachment inquiry but has said he is willing to testify in the Senate if he is subpoenaed.

The White House brief argues that the articles of impeachment passed by the House are “structurally deficient” because they charge multiple acts, creating “a menu of options” as possible grounds for conviction.

The Trump team claims that the constitution requires that senators agree “on the specific basis for conviction”, and that there is no way to ensure that the senators agree on which acts are worthy of removal because a single count contains multiple allegations.

Administration officials have argued that similar imprecision applied to the perjury case in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, who was acquitted by the Senate.