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Trump’s Defense Team and House Democrats Spar Before Start of Trial

Ahead of Tuesday's Senate impeachment trial, President Trump's legal team launched a broadside on House Democrats' articles of impeachment Saturday, as impeachment managers laid out their case that the president must be removed from office.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Ahead of Tuesday's Senate impeachment trial, President Trump's legal team launched a broadside on House Democrats' articles of impeachment Saturday, as impeachment managers laid out their case that the president must be removed from office.

Trump's defense team, led by his private attorney Jay Sekulow and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, filed a 6-page response to summons the Senate issued to Trump last week that previews the arguments they will make in their efforts to save Trump from being the first president ever removed from office.

"The articles of impeachment submitted by House Democrats are a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their president," the document states. "This is a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election —now just months away."

The reply denies all allegations of wrongdoing against Trump and attacks the articles as "the result of a lawless process" and "defective" because they do not accuse the president of committing a crime.

In a brief and an attached recounting of facts, House Democrats who will act as prosecutors during Trump's Senate trial expanded upon why the president should be removed from office for pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son and an unsubstantiated theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump is accused of withholding a nearly $400 million military aid package and a coveted White House visit as leverage to convince Ukraine to announce the probes.

"President Trump has betrayed the American people and the ideals on which the Nation was founded," the 46-page brief states. "Unless he is removed from office, he will continue to endanger our national security, jeopardize the integrity of our elections and undermine our core constitutional principles."

The Government Accountability Office last week released a report that found Trump's slow-walking of the military aid violated federal law, though the articles of impeachment the House passed do not specifically make that allegation against Trump beyond the more general abuse of power charge.

Both the tone and content of the president's reply are similar to the defenses the White House and House Republicans launched throughout the impeachment saga, as Trump argued he was unfairly cut out of the process and that his now-infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "perfect."

The House Judiciary Committee invited Trump to participate after it began drafting the articles following investigations and public hearings in the House Intelligence Committee, but Trump declined to do so.

As for the call, the document filed Saturday argues Trump did nothing wrong in his conversation with Zelensky because the military aid eventually went to Ukraine and Trump and Zelensky met without the investigations being announced.

To support the obstruction of Congress charge, the House argues that Trump's blanket direction that executive branch officials should not comply with House information requests violates separation of powers principles and places the president above the law, contrary to the Constitution's structure.

"President Trump's solicitation of foreign interference in our elections to secure his own political success is precisely why the framers of our Constitution provided Congress with the power to impeach a corrupt president and remove him from office," the brief states.

In defending against the obstruction charge, Trump's legal team argues the president's claims of privilege were valid. The reply dings House Democrats for not going to court to enforce subpoenas the White House ordered key administration officials to buck.

"Notwithstanding these abuses, the Trump administration replied appropriately to the subpoenas and identified their constitutional defects," the reply states. "Tellingly, House Democrats did not seek to enforce these constitutionally defective subpoenas in court."

House Democrats said they did not want to tie up the impeachment push in lengthy court battles with a White House that had launched a blanket blockade against complying with congressional requests for information.

The Senate is scheduled to kick off the trial in earnest on Tuesday, after senators and Chief Justice John Roberts were sworn in at the end of last week. It is not yet clear how long the trial will last, though the White House has said it does not expect it to run longer than two weeks.

The reply Trump's team released Saturday is different than the one they set to file on Monday and a source close to the president's legal team said the brief will delve more deeply into the arguments made in the Saturday filing.

It is also unclear what information beyond what is in the House brief will come into the trial, including whether senators will hear from live witnesses. Democrats have insisted the Senate call former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, though some Republicans have said if those witnesses appear at trial, they will call their own, including Hunter Biden.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said which, if any, witnesses come into the trial will come down to majority votes in the Republican-controlled chamber. Republicans have generally been opposed to calling witnesses, though Democrats see a handful as persuadable.

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