Impeachment managers say Trump 'has no good defense' in reply to president's pre-trial brief

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The House Democratic impeachment managers, in their reply to former President Donald Trump’s full pre-trial brief from Monday, slam the former president’s legal theories as “flawed” and say that he is shirking responsibility for the Capitol riot. 

They say that the idea Trump isn’t responsible for the Capitol riot after his Jan. 6 rally “defies belief.”

“President Trump’s pre-trial brief confirms that he has no good defense of his incitement of an insurrection against the Nation he swore an oath to protect,” the document, filed less than two hours before the start of the trial’s arguments Tuesday, says. “Instead, he tries to shift the blame onto his supporters, and he invokes a set of flawed legal theories that would allow Presidents to incite violence and overturn the democratic process without fear of consequences.”

“As a direct result of President Trump’s actions, the seat of our democracy has been transformed into a military camp,” the impeachment managers add. “That is President Trump’s legacy to the Nation.”

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Trump’s lawyers say that his speech at his Jan. 6 rally was protected by the First Amendment and that he never instructed his followers to commit violence. They’ve also railed against the impeachment trial as “political theater.”

“Instead of acting to heal the nation, or at the very least focusing on prosecuting the lawbreakers who stormed the Capitol, the Speaker of the House and her allies have tried to callously harness the chaos of the moment for their own political gain,” Trump’s team said Monday. 

“Mr. Trump spoke for approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. Of the over 10,000 words spoken, Mr. Trump used the word ‘fight’ a little more than a handful of times and each time in the figurative sense that has long been accepted in public discourse when urging people to stand and use their voices to be heard on matters important to them; it was not and could not be construed to encourage acts of violence,” the former president’s lawyers also said. 

The exchange of briefs is part of a framework agreed to by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that put off the start of the Senate trial for a couple of weeks after House impeachment managers transmitted the article of impeachment against Trump.

It gave the Senate a chance to move to confirm a handful of top nominees for President Biden’s Cabinet and make some progress on coronavirus relief before entering the all-consuming impeachment trial hearings. 

FILE – President Donald Trump speaks to crowd before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

Now the Democrats’ brief Tuesday is likely to provide a final window into what the arguments of the impeachment managers will look like before the trial gets underway in earnest Tuesday. 

Tuesday’s arguments will focus on whether it is constitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a former president, as is happening now with Trump. The Senate held an impeachment trial in the 1800s for an impeached secretary of war who’d subsequently resigned, but many Republicans and Trump’s lawyers are arguing the situation is different now with a former president. 

The impeachment managers address that in their Tuesday brief. 

“Because President Trump’s guilt is obvious, he seeks to evade responsibility for inciting the January 6 insurrection by arguing that the Senate lacks jurisdiction to convict officials after they leave office,” the impeachment managers say. “This discredited argument has been rejected by scholars across the political spectrum, including many of the Nation’s leading conservative constitutional lawyers, one of whom recently took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to urge the Senate to accept jurisdiction over this trial.”

On Trump’s First Amendment defense, the impeachment managers say “it does not protect a President who incites his supporters to imperil that system through violence… The First Amendment does not immunize President Trump from impeachment or limit the Senate’s power to protect the Nation from an unfit leader. And even assuming the First Amendment applied, it would certainly not protect President Trump’s speech on January 6, which incited lawless action.”

The House Democrats also assail an argument that Trump’s lawyers have made that the many accusations in their article of impeachment — from pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” votes to telling his followers to march to the Capitol — should be in different articles, therefore making their one article invalid. 


“The article does not, as President Trump claims, charge multiple impeachable offenses,” the impeachment managers said.

“Rather, it charges that President Trump engaged in a single course of impeachable conduct in inciting an insurrection on January 6. While the article explains that President Trump employed various tactics, over the course of months,” the Tuesday brief says. “It also makes clear that these activities merely provided the kindling, which President Trump set aflame when he incited insurrection on January 6.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates. 

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