House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a thorough outline of their legal case against former President Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, arguing that he incited the mob attack and bears direct responsibility for the deadly violence that followed.
The Democrats’ 80-page trial brief describes Trump as unmistakably and singularly responsible for the events at the U.S. Capitol and states that his conduct “requires” that he be convicted and barred from holding office again.
“President Trump’s conduct must be declared unacceptable in the clearest and most unequivocal terms. This is not a partisan matter. His actions directly threatened the very foundation on which all other political debates and disagreements unfold,” the brief states. “They also threatened the constitutional system that protects the fundamental freedoms we cherish.”
House Democrats, joined by 10 Republicans, impeached Trump last month for “incitement of insurrection against the Republic he swore to protect.” It marked the first time in the country’s history that a president had been impeached twice.
Tuesday’s legal brief represents an extensive look at the arguments the Democratic impeachment managers — the nine lawmakers who will prosecute the case — intend to make during the trial in the Senate, which begins Feb. 9. Trump’s attorneys are also expected to file their own formal response to the article of impeachment later Tuesday.
With the Senate evenly split between the parties, and Republicans already rallying in opposition to Trump’s impeachment, there’s almost no chance the upper chamber will convict the former president — a verdict requiring support of two-thirds of senators. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), backed by unanimous support from her caucus, said impeachment was a necessary step in order to send a message to future presidents that encouraging supporters to overturn an election would not go unpunished.
“Trump’s responsibility for the vicious January 6 insurrection is unmistakable,” the nine managers, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), said in a joint statement.
Still, Trump’s legal team endured a shake-up over the weekend as one of the attorneys, Butch Bowers, left the group amid reports Trump wanted his lawyers to focus on his unproven claims of election fraud. The developments have led to concerns among allies about the former president’s ability to put on a strong defense in the trial.
Trump, who traveled to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. after leaving office on Jan. 20, will be represented by defense attorneys David Schoen and Bruce Castor.
Trump’s lawyers filed their response to the charge later Tuesday afternoon outlining his defense. In their 14-page brief, they argue that it is unconstitutional to impeach a former president and that Trump’s speech did not directly lead to the Capitol attack.
They also argue that Trump was exercising his First Amendment right and dispute that his unsupported claims about election fraud were false.
“The 45th President exercised his First Amendment right under the Constitution to express his belief that the election results were suspect, since with very few exceptions, under the convenient guise of Covid-19 pandemic ‘safeguards’ states election laws and procedures were changed by local politicians or judges without the necessary approvals from state legislatures,” the brief states.
“Insufficient evidence exists upon which a reasonable jurist could conclude that the 45th President’s statements were accurate or not, and he therefore denies they were false.”
Democrats pushed back on those arguments in their trial brief on Tuesday. They argue that the Senate has jurisdiction in the case and that there is no “January Exception” to impeachment in order to rebut arguments that the impeachment of a former president is unconstitutional. They cite the cases of William Blount, an official who was impeached after being expelled by the Senate, and former Secretary of War William Belknap, who was both impeached and faced a Senate trial following his resignation in 1876.
The Democrats also argue that the First Amendment right to free speech exists to protect the U.S. democratic system, and that Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results were “direct assault on core First Amendment principles.”
“Holding him accountable through conviction on the article of impeachment would vindicate First Amendment freedoms—which certainly offer no excuse or defense for President Trump’s destructive conduct,” they write.
The charges stem from Trump's months-long campaign to contest the results of last year's presidential election with unproven claims that rampant voter fraud had "stolen" victory from him. Trump had encouraged his supporters to contest those results by coming to Washington on Jan. 6, when Congress was voting to formalize the election victory of Joe Biden.
Speaking at the White House that day, Trump riled up thousands of his supporters, asking them to march on the Capitol to block Congress from certifying the election results, a process overseen by his own vice president, Mike Pence. Many in the crowd complied, storming into the Capitol in the middle of Congress’s debate to verify the state-backed electoral votes.
In their brief, Democrats say Trump gauged the “tense crowd” and then “whipped it into a frenzy, exhorting followers to 'fight like hell [or] you’re not going to have a country anymore.’ ”
“Incited by President Trump, his mob attacked the Capitol,” the brief reads. “This assault unfolded live on television before a horrified nation."
A U.S. Capitol Police officer died as a result of the mayhem that followed, and a protester was fatally shot by a second officer as she tried to access the Speaker’s lobby adjacent to the House chamber.