Donald Trump’s lawyers have denounced the case against him in a scathing new legal brief as the US braces for the former president’s second impeachment trial to begin tomorrow.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, have spent the day finalising a bipartisan agreement on the rules and format of the trial.
It is expected to take far less time than Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial a year ago, which lasted 21 days.
According to The New York Times, the proceedings are likely to start with a four-hour debate on whether or not the trial is constitutional, followed by a vote on the matter.
Mr Trump’s legal team will argue it is unconstitutional because he is no longer in office.
We got a preview of how the vote will go late last month, when Republican Rand Paul put forward a motion which would have declared the trial unconstitutional. It was defeated 55-45, with five Republicans joining the Democrats.
Once that debate is out of the way, the prosecution and defence will be given 16 hours each to present their cases, starting at noon on Wednesday, local time. It is unclear whether the Democrats’ impeachment managers will seek to call witnesses.
Senators will be able to submit questions for either side to answer.
Mr Schumer and Mr McConnell have reportedly agreed to adjourn proceedings on Friday evening to honour the Jewish Sabbath, and then reconvene on Sunday.
The way the timeline is shaping up, the trial should end next week, at which point there will be a vote to determine whether Mr Trump is convicted.
The 100 senators are acting as jurors here. A guilty verdict requires a supermajority of 67, meaning at least 17 Republicans would need to vote against a former president from their own party.
In the unlikely event of a conviction, the Senate could proceed to hold another vote to bar Mr Trump from running for public office again. That would only require a simple majority.
The prosecution of Mr Trump is being handled by nine impeachment managers, who were selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. All nine are Democrats.
Mr Trump’s defence, meanwhile, is being led by lawyers Bruce Castor, David Schoen and Michael van der Veen.
Today that defence team filed a 75-page brief laying out its arguments in more detail, and calling on the Senate to dismiss the charge against Mr Trump.
“During the past four years, Democrat members of the House of Representatives have filed at least nine resolutions to impeach Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, each containing charges more outlandish than the next,” the brief declares.
“One might have been excused for thinking that the Democrats’ fevered hatred for Citizen Trump and their ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ would have broken by now, seeing as he is no longer the president, and yet for the second time in just over a year the Senate is preparing to sit as a court of impeachment, but this time over a private citizen who is a former president.
“In this country, the Constitution – not a political party and not politicians – reigns supreme. But through this latest article of impeachment now before the Senate, Democrat politicians seek to carve out a mechanism by which they can silence a political opponent and a minority party. The Senate must summarily reject this brazen political act.
“The intellectual dishonesty and factual vacuity put forth by the House managers in their trial memorandum only serve to further punctuate the point that this impeachment proceeding was never about seeking justice.
“Instead, this was only ever a selfish attempt by Democratic leadership in the House to prey upon the feelings of horror and confusion that fell upon all Americans across the entire political spectrum upon seeing the destruction at the Capitol.
“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.”
In addition to the aforementioned argument that Mr Trump cannot be put on trial under the US Constitution because he is no longer president, his team is disputing each of the allegations contained in the article of impeachment on their merits.
For example, the former president’s lawyers describe the idea that his speech at a rally just before the Capitol riot on January 6 incited violence as “absurd”.
“Contrary to the false narrative set forth by the House managers, Mr Trump’s speech was never directed to inciting or producing any imminent lawless action,” they argue.
“It is important to read the speech in its entirety, because the House managers played shamefully fast and loose with the truth as they cherrypicked its content.
“(The) claim that he could be responsible if a small group of criminals (who had come to the Capitol of their own accord armed and ready for a fight) completely misunderstood him, were so enamoured with him and inspired with his words that they left his speech early, and then walked a mile-and-a-half away to ‘imminently’ do the opposite of what he had just asked for, is simply absurd.
“His statements cannot and could not reasonably be interpreted as a call to immediate violence or a call for a violent overthrow of the United States’ government.”
The brief says Mr Trump was engaging in political speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
It also rejects the argument that Mr Trump “did not act swiftly enough” to stop the violence, blaming “complex procedural elements involved in quelling a riot” for the time it took for law enforcement to reclaim control of the Capitol.
“There was a flurry of activity inside the White House working to mobilise assets,” it says, adding that Mr Trump was “horrified” by the actions of his supporters.
The impeachment managers responded to the Trump team’s brief a couple of hours after it was filed.
“The House denies each and every allegation in the answer that denies the acts, knowledge, intent, or wrongful conduct charged against President Trump,” they said.
“The House states that each and every allegation in the article of impeachment is true, and that any affirmative defences and legal defences set forth in the answer are wholly without merit.”
The Democrats hit back at the idea that presidents cannot be held accountable by the Senate if they commit high crimes and misdemeanours just before leaving office.
“Presidents swear a sacred oath that binds them from their first day in office through their very last. There is no ‘January Exception’ to the Constitution that allows presidents to abuse power in their final days without accountability,” they said, before moving on to Mr Trump’s other arguments.
“To call these responses implausible would be an act of charity,” said the impeachment managers.
“President Trump’s repeated claims about a ‘rigged’ and ‘stolen’ election were false, no matter how many contortions his lawyers undertake to avoid saying so.
“When President Trump demanded that the armed, angry crowd at his Save America rally ‘fight like hell’ or ‘you’re not going to have a country anymore’, he wasn’t urging them to form political action committees about ‘election security in general’.
“Also, to be clear, this is not a case about ‘protected speech’. The House did not impeach President Trump because he expressed an unpopular political opinion. It impeached him because he wilfully incited insurrection against the government.
“We live in a nation governed by the rule of law, not mob violence incited by presidents who cannot accept their own electoral defeat.
“The evidence of President Trump’s conduct is overwhelming. He has no valid excuse or defence for his actions. And his efforts to escape accountability are entirely unavailing.”