WASHINGTON (CN) — House impeachment managers have begun laying out their case against former President Donald Trump, calling it clear that he whipped supporters into a frenzy before sending them to the Capitol to interrupt constitutional processes.
“It is one thing for an official to pursue legal processes for contesting election results,” a group of nine House lawmakers said in their brief to the Senate. “It is something else entirely for that official to incite violence against the government and to obstruct the finalization of election results, after judges and election officials conclude that his challenges lack proof and legal merit.”
The brief quotes from the speech that the former reality television star gave in the hours before the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, saying his urging of supporters to “fight like hell” threatened the system that protects fundamental freedoms.
“In the clearest and most unequivocal terms,” the lawmakers said, the world’s greatest deliberative body has a duty declare Trump’s actions unacceptable.
Police locked down the U.S. Capitol for more than five hours on Jan. 6, as Trump supporters breached the building and destroyed offices. Three members of the mob died on the grounds, and one, Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed by a U.S. Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a window into the Speaker’s Lobby.
Just Monday, a preliminary investigation of that shooting revealed there was no evidence to criminally charge the officer in her death.
The Jan. 6 attack marked only the second time that the Capitol building was successfully invaded; it was British troops who razed the building last during the war of 1812.
Trump faces trial in the Senate next week after the House impeached him for the second time in his term — the first president in U.S. history to take that distinction.
Impeachment managers note that the incitement charge against Trump is far from the routine corruption allegation. His effort to extend his grip on power “by fomenting violence against Congress” was a supreme violation of his presidential oath, they wrote.
“If provoking an insurrectionary riot against a joint session of Congress after losing an election is not an impeachable offense, it is hard to imagine what would be,” the brief states. “The framers themselves would not have hesitate to convict on these facts.”
As members of the Senate were sworn in last week as impartial jurors for Trump’s trial, Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, attempted to sideline the proceedings. Making the case that Trump is now a private Mar-a-Lago resident, no longer a public official, he argued that the Senate did not have jurisdiction to oversee his impeachment.
While Paul’s motion to table the impeachment trial failed, he still garnered support from 55 senators who said they questioned the process’ constitutionality. Impeachment managers wrote Tuesday that given the overwhelming strength of their case against Trump, it was expected he would make such due process arguments.
After splitting with his last legal team over the weekend, however, it is said Trump insists that his defense rest on the purported illegality of the 2020 election — claims of which were roundly dismissed in nearly every court to have heard them.
Not wasting any time, Trump’s new attorneys, Bruce Castor and David Schoen, volleyed Tuesday with their answer to the charges against Trump.
Their 14-page filing insists that Trump always did “what he thought was in the best interests of the American people,” and denies that Trump violated his oath of office in any fashion.
For every charge, they write that Trump’s departure from office mooted the case against him, making the issue “irrelevant to any matter” before the Senate.
In their brief, Castor and Schoen ceded only that there was a joint session of Congress called to meet on January 6. They called it debatable whether Trump was accurate in saying that the results of the November election were suspect, and said Trump is protected in any case by the First Amendment.
As for what made the election results suspect, the brief cites state changes to their election laws “under the convenient guise of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Impeachment managers wrote Tuesday that the former president cannot invoke free speech as a defense. Noting that the First Amendment exists only to protect the democratic system, they said those rights mean little if a president can provoke lawless action.
“If the Senate does not try President Trump (and convict him) it risks declaring to all future presidents that there will be no consequences, no accountability, indeed no Congressional response at all if the violate their oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution’ in their final weeks — and instead provoke lethal violence in a lawless effort to retain power,” the brief states.
Underscoring the evidence that Trump incited last month’s riot in a last-ditch effort to subvert the election results, the impeachment managers called it incumbent on the Senate to convict Trump so that he can be prevented from ever holding office in the future.
“This is not a case where elections alone are a sufficient safeguard against future abuse; it is the electoral process itself that President Trump attacked and that must be protected from him and anyone else who would seek to mimic his behavior,” they wrote.