Democrats built their impeachment case from a transcript of Trump’s July 25 call to Volodymyr Zelensky in which he urged Ukraine’s newly elected president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. The House Intelligence Committee also interviewed 17 witnesses, including some who described deep confusion and chaos inside the administration after Trump ordered the withholding of military aid to Ukraine.
The obstruction charge arose from Trump’s blanket order to his administration to refuse cooperation with the House probe, an order that many of the witnesses sought by the Democrats defied. Trump also prevented the State Department, Pentagon and White House budget office from sharing documents that could shed light on the arrangements. Several key witnesses, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton have refused to cooperate as well.
Democrats have emphasized that Congress and the courts have long agreed that impeachable offenses don’t require statutory crimes — in fact the House Judiciary Committee approved “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” charges in past presidential impeachments, and the House considered but ultimately rejected an abuse of power charge against Bill Clinton.
But it appears Trump’s team plans to sidestep the substance of Democrats’ cases and focus instead on what they claim was a rushed investigation that offered no meaningful chance for Trump to participate. Democrats did offer Trump’s attorneys a chance to present a rebuttal and propose witnesses during the Judiciary Committee’s hearings in December, but the attorneys declined, claiming the process was unfair. Democrats also note that Trump’s allies in Congress had equal access to the hearings to question witnesses and push back on the allegations.
Democrats have also emphasized that they view the House’s function as analogous to a grand jury, while the Senate trial — which begins in earnest on Tuesday — is where the White House’s witnesses and evidence can be fully considered.
Senators are expected to spend most of Tuesday jockeying over the rules of the trial, while the House is expected to present evidence and arguments beginning on Wednesday. The House’s seven prosecutors, Trump lawyers and the senators themselves are largely in the dark about how much time all of the speakers will have and when to expect floor votes on whether witnesses should even be considered.
Trump’s reply brief is the only written document that the president’s lawyers are required to present before the trial starts. In it, they rejected the House’s own charges spelled out in their 111-page brief submitted on Saturday, which said the president’s “ongoing pattern of misconduct demonstrates that he is an immediate threat to the Nation and the rule of law.”
The president is expected to leave Washington D.C. later Monday for an international economic summit in Davos, Switzerland. But before his departure Trump took to Twitter to criticize the House Democrats over an impeachment process that he ordered his own team of aides and lawyers to sit out.
“They didn’t want John Bolton and others in the House. They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!” Trump tweeted.
Five minutes later, the president continued, “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer is now asking for ‘fairness’, when he and the Democrat House members worked together to make sure I got ZERO fairness in the House. So, what else is new?”
Democrats did seek Bolton’s testimony but declined to subpoena him after a Bolton deputy sued to determine the validity of Congress’ demand. The House contended that this was a delay tactic meant to derail the impeachment process and withdrew its subpoena, shelving any other court action to demand testimony in the run-up to the impeachment vote.
On Capitol Hill, the House impeachment managers held meetings and completed a walk-through of the Senate chamber ahead of the first full week of the trial.
The walk-through included a tour of the anteroom off the Senate floor where House lawyers will be stationed during the trial. The room had two rows of desktop computers and TV screens that will likely show the Senate floor while the managers are making their case during opening arguments.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment manager, declined to respond to questions about the White House’s brief.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has yet to reveal the exact procedures for the trial, which are likely to be approved on a party-line vote when the Senate convenes at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Democrats have objected to the possibility that McConnell will seek to limit the number of days allotted for opening arguments, which could lead to marathon 12-hour days in the beginning of the trial.