Democratic lawmakers leading the impeachment case against Donald Trump requested Thursday the former president to testify in his looming trial for allegedly inciting insurrection in the attack on the US Capitol last month.
Five days before the trial opens, Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, who will lead the prosecution, gave Trump until 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Friday to respond and warned that refusing to testify could be held as evidence against him.
"I write to invite you to provide testimony under oath, either before or during the Senate impeachment trial, concerning your conduct on January 6, 2021," Raskin wrote in a letter to Trump.
"If you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021," he said.
Trump's legal team responded to the request by calling it a "public relations stunt."
"Your letter only confirms what is known to everyone: you cannot prove you allegations" against Trump, said attorneys Bruce Castor and David Schoen in their reply.
- Assault on the Capitol -
Raskin made the request after Trump's lawyers filed a pre-trial brief denying the allegations that he encouraged the violent assault by his supporters on the US Congress, which left five people dead.
The defense brief also said Trump had reason and the right to claim that he had been cheated out of victory by Democrat Joe Biden in the November presidential election -- a claim that has never been supported by evidence.
That claim drove hundreds of his supporters to invade the US legislature on January 6 and force a halt to a vote that would certify Biden's victory.
Raskin, whose official title in the case is lead impeachment manager, signalled that the prosecutors would focus on those claims in the trial, which opens on February 9.
"You have thus attempted to put critical facts at issue, notwithstanding the clear and overwhelming evidence of your constitutional offense," Raskin said in the letter.
Raskin said Trump, who now lives in his Florida Mar-a-Lago resort, had little excuse to avoid testifying, saying he could no longer claim he was too busy overseeing the country, as was the White House position when he was still president.
He proposed that Trump provide testimony, and face cross-examination on it, between February 8 and February 11, "at a mutually convenient time and place."
The unprecedented second impeachment trial of a US president -- and the first to take place after he left office -- will open just four weeks after the legislature was shut down by Trump supporters on the day Congress was to certify Biden's election victory.
- 'Fight like hell' -
Prosecutors have charged some 180 people in the attacks, according to a tally by the George washington University Program on extremism, and hundreds more are under investigation.
The Justice Department has suggested they could build a case for seditious conspiracy by some Trump-supporting extreme right groups in the attack.
A number of those charged have said they were encouraged by Trump, who less than two hours before the attack told a rally of supporters at the White House to "fight like hell" to support his election victory claim.
But Trump's lawyers argued in their brief Tuesday that whatever he said to that rally was not intended to encourage violence and was constitutionally protected free speech.
Thay also argued Trump cannot be put on trial in the Senate because he is no longer president.
That latter claim is expected to lead to Trump's acquittal in the trial.
Conviction requires support of two-thirds of the 100 senators, who serve as judges and jury in the trial.
But ahead of the trial 45 of 50 Republican senators made clear in a vote that they think trying an ex-president would be unconstitutional.
Unless convinced otherwise, that level of support indicates Trump will win his impeachment trail for a second time.