With the stage set for a historical impeachment trial next week, Donald Trump is doubling down.
Despite suffering a mass exodus from his defence team, reportedly due to his insistence on arguing the election was stolen, the former president still can’t let go of the election lies that remain at the heart of his unprecedented second impeachment.
A week before the trial is set to commence, the legal battle kicked off on Tuesday (local time) when the House Democrats filed a legal brief providing the most detail yet as to their argument to convict Trump of inciting a violent insurrection at the Capitol building.
Using some rather colourful language, the briefing accuses Trump of stoking lies and wielding his supporters “like a loaded cannon”.
“His conduct endangered the life of every single member of Congress, jeopardised the peaceful transition of power and line of succession, and compromised our national security,” the Democratic managers of the impeachment case wrote.
Later Tuesday, Trump’s legal team filed its first official response to the House’s impeachment charge, with the defence team focusing their attention on procedural matters of whether a president who is no longer sitting can be convicted of impeachment under the constitution.
The duelling filings offer the first public glimpse of the arguments that will be presented to the Senate as Democrats make their case to convince the at least 17 Republicans required to convict the former president.
Trump defence full of ‘typos and lies’
Trump’s newly appointed lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor, denied that he had incited the riot by disputing the election results or by exhorting his followers to “fight like hell”.
In any event, they argued, the trial was unconstitutional now that Trump has left the White House.
But the lawyers have sparked anger at continuing to advance Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, arguing it was the president’s First Amendment right to free speech to say the election result was “suspect”.
The defence briefing also pointed out that Trump “denies” it is false to say he won the election “in a landslide.”
Specialist election lawyer Marc Elias, who has been heavily involved in the Democrats’ effort to rebuff dozens of lawsuits from the Trump team and the GOP which sought to challenge the election, was among those to bristle at the brief labelling one particular detail “disgraceful”.
Pointing out that Trump and the GOP have had 64 election lawsuits knocked back or dismissed by judges across the country, Mr Elias slammed the lawyers for using their legal licences and professional credibility “to spout these lies” in their impeachment filing.
Republicans ‘ready to move on’ from election claims
While Republicans have almost uniformly given the former president an unyielding display of deference, it appears Trump and his lawyers could be on a short leash heading into the trial.
Speaking to Politico, senior Republican Lindsey Graham said the party is unlikely to have much patience for the former president to once again air baseless claim of election rigging.
“If they start trying to prove that Georgia and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were stolen, that’s when you’re going to lose everybody,” he said.
“That’s when most of us will be ready to move on.”
Trump’s desire to use the impeachment trial to air his fraud claims was a factor in his parting of ways with five lawyers over the weekend who wanted to focus on constitutional questions, Reuters reported. Evidently, his new legal team were unable to completely omit them from their defence argument.
An earlier vote aimed at throwing out the impeachment trail on constitutional grounds was supported by 45 of 50 senate Republicans, suggesting a conviction in the senate is very unlikely.
However some Republicans including the chamber’s Republican leader Mitch McConnell have indicated their vote to dismiss the trial on constitutional grounds did not necessarily preclude a vote for conviction, opening the door ever so slightly to the possibility, however unlikely.
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