On the eve of the Senate’s impeachment trial, President Trump’s attorneys outlined a defense strategy that seeks to turn House Democrats’ articles of impeachment on their head, arguing it was not the president who abused his power, but the House, and it was not the House’s duty that was unjustly obstructed, but the president’s.
In a fiery, six-page letter released on Saturday, Trump’s lead lawyers—Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone—argue that the Senate should not only reject the articles of impeachment but that those articles are blatantly unconstitutional and violate the will of the American people.
The articles, the attorneys claim, are “defective in their entirety… They are the product of invalid proceedings that flagrantly denied the president any due process rights. They rest on dangerous distortions of the Constitution that would do lasting damage to our structure of government.”
In their attacks against the two articles passed by Democrats in December—which charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in his effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals—Sekulow and Cipollone echo closely the substance and tone of arguments made by Trump’s GOP allies on Capitol Hill during the impeachment process.
Those arguments emphasize that Trump denies the charges, the Ukrainians downplayed any pressure from Washington to open investigations, and that they eventually got the withheld security assistance anyway without announcing any investigations.
And echoing a talking point from Trump himself—“read the transcript”—the lawyers also argue that the memoranda of transcripts of the April and July calls between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky show there was no unseemly conduct. They claim Democrats knew that, too, because House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) paraphrased the call during a September hearing.
“The fact that Mr. Schiff felt the need to fabricate a false version of the July 25 call proves that he and his colleagues knew there was absolutely nothing wrong with that call,” the attorneys write.
In responding to the obstruction of Congress charge, the attorneys write that the administration—which has blocked key witnesses from testifying and withheld scores of documents from investigators—is simply exercising its constitutional imperatives in the face of what they describe as historic, damaging overreach from the House. “The House may not usurp Executive Branch authority and may not bypass our Constitution’s system of checks and balances,” the letter reads.
In the letter’s conclusion, the attorneys also teased a final defense that rests on long-running GOP claims that impeachment is an attack on the electorate’s will in 2016.
“In order to preserve our constitutional structure of government, to reject the poisonous partisanship that the Framers warned against, to ensure one-party political impeachment vendettas do not become ‘the new normal,’ and to vindicate the will of the American people, the Senate must reject both Articles of Impeachment,” they say. “In the end, this entire process is nothing more than a dangerous attack on the American people themselves and their fundamental right to vote.”
The aggressive defense from the White House was released minutes after the seven Democratic impeachment managers filed an 111-page brief that outlines the case they will make when arguments in the trial begin next week. It includes several counterpoints to the key claims made by Trump’s lawyers—notably, that the aid to Ukraine was only released because Trump “got caught” withholding it.
Trump’s defense team will submit a longer, more formal trial brief on Sunday.