President Trump’s legal team urged the Senate on Monday to “speedily reject” articles of impeachment on the eve of the president’s trial, arguing that he committed no crimes involving military aid to Ukraine and that House Democrats have pushed the “dangerous” case against him to invalidate the 2016 election.
In a 110-page legal brief, the president’s attorneys said Democrats don’t have a case with their allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and that the “frivolous” articles don’t merit removing Mr. Trump from office.
“House Democrats were determined from the outset to find some way — any way — to corrupt the extraordinary power of impeachment for use as a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election,” the lawyers wrote. “All of that is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn.”
The third impeachment trial of a U.S. president in history will begin in earnest Tuesday in the Senate.
Majority Republicans have set a schedule that will start with opening arguments by the House Democrats’ impeachment managers.
A source working with the president’s legal team said Mr. Trump’s attorneys plan to seek a quick dismissal of the impeachment articles after the House Democrats present their case.
Mr. Trump won’t appear as a witness under oath at his trial, but he has essentially been testifying for months by using the presidential bully pulpit at campaign rallies and other public appearances to proclaim his innocence.
In the first impeachment trial since the dawn of social media, Mr. Trump took to Twitter again Monday to declare that Democrats are treating him unfairly in a partisan rush to judgment.
“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?” Mr. Trump tweeted.
The president’s unceasing use of the White House megaphone against impeachment is an effective strategy, said Richard Benedetto, an adjunct professor of communications at American University and a former White House reporter.
“More than it is a legal battle, it’s a PR battle out there for the hearts and minds of the public,” Mr. Benedetto said. “Whether it be the impeachment or whether it be his reelection prospects, he’s an activist and he doesn’t want to leave the stage to anybody else, where he isn’t a participant.”
During the impeachment trial of President Clinton in 1999, there was no social media and the first touch-screen phones were still a year away.
“People depended upon the traditional news media for all of their information,” Mr. Benedetto said of the Clinton impeachment case. “Now everybody is a player, from the citizen out on the street to the players in the Senate. The rules are entirely different. There’s no comparison; there’s just contrast.”
Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said he expects Mr. Trump to be “flanking the Senate trial with his own messages in order to shape the media covering it. His own ‘surround sound’ will likely saturate the discussion.”
The latest Gallup polling, conducted Jan. 2-15, shows that 51% of Americans oppose removing Mr. Trump from office and 46% favor his removal.
Mr. Trump’s effectiveness at communicating directly with the public is one reason he is planning to go ahead with his State of the Union address on Feb. 4, when he will likely be in the midst of his trial, said White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
“The president is anxious to address the people unfiltered, directly from the president to you, in your living room, on your phone, on your laptop computer, on the radio — however it is you receive a message from the president without everybody telling you what he said and what he meant,” she said.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mrs. Conway said the president is “not the one trying to tear the country apart through an impeachment process and a lack of substance that really is very shameful.”
“When you see the articles of impeachment that came out, I don’t think it was within Dr. King’s vision to have Americans dragged through a process where the president is not going to be removed from office, is not being charged with bribery, extortion, high crimes or misdemeanors,” she said. “And I think that anybody who cares about ‘and justice for all’ on today, or any day of the year, will appreciate the fact that the president now will have a full throttle defense on the facts.”
The president’s attorneys were working in the White House through the day to prepare for the trial. One of them, Robert Ray, said their job is “to show why and how the House managers do not have a case.”
“It’s an opportunity for fairness, finally, and for both sides to present [arguments],” he said on “Fox & Friends.” “If the Senate decides that it needs witnesses in order to resolve something, then that’s an entirely appropriate step for the Senate and their discretion to make. But if, on the other hand, this is the type of impeachment, an entirely partisan effort, that ultimately doesn’t have basis or foundation, what need would there be of witnesses? And if the Senate can make that judgment without witnesses, they’re entirely permitted to do that. That’s our job to present that case. And that case will be presented later this week.”
In their legal papers, the president’s attorneys, led by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, make many of the arguments that Mr. Trump has been enumerating in public for months. They reject the accusation that Mr. Trump withheld military aid last summer to pressure Ukraine’s president to announce a corruption investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden.
The president’s legal brief said the impeachment articles are defective as a matter of law. The lawyers argued that House Democrats did not find evidence of Mr. Trump pressuring Ukraine to announce a Biden investigation in return for the security aid.
“In the history of the country, there has never been an impeachment of the president that did not charge a violation of established law,” the source said. “House Democrats produced a factual record that demonstrated the president did nothing wrong.”
They argued that the impeachment case is a partisan reaction to Hillary Clinton’s election loss to Mr. Trump in 2016.
“Radical left Democrats have never been able to come to grips with losing the election, and impeachment provides them a way to nullify the judgment of the tens of millions of voters who rejected their candidate,” the lawyers wrote. “Second, they want to use impeachment to interfere in the 2020 election. It is no accident that the Senate is being asked to consider a presidential impeachment during an election year.”
They say some of the animus comes from the Washington establishment’s opposition to Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda.
“Millions of Americans voted for President Trump precisely because he promised to disrupt the foreign policy status quo,” the lawyers said. “With respect to Ukraine and elsewhere, his foreign policy has focused on ensuring that America does not shoulder a disproportionate burden for various international missions, that other countries do their fair share and that taxpayer dollars are not squandered.”
A Democratic staffer working on impeachment told reporters that the president’s brief misstates the law and that abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are charges that the Founding Fathers considered for impeachment. The staffer said all scholars testified to this during the House inquiry.
The aide said Mr. Trump was turning executive privilege on its head as a “complete shield to being held accountable.”
The president’s legal team did not bother responding to some allegations that the House impeachment managers included in their filing. The House managers attempted to include evidence gathered after the articles of impeachment were passed Dec. 18, during a four-week impasse when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, held on to the charges.
During that time, the Government Accountability Office issued a report saying the Trump administration violated the law by holding on to the military aid to Ukraine. Democrats have seized on that report and appear to want to bring it into the trial as evidence against Mr. Trump.
The House Democrats also cited evidence from Lev Parnas, an associate of Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, who said Mr. Giuliani sent a letter to the Ukrainian president in May requesting a meeting. He claimed he was reaching out with the president’s consent.
Mr. Trump’s legal team ignored those arguments in their response. One of the sources working on the president’s legal team said Mr. Parnas’ testimony wouldn’t have any credibility and that his claims against the president weren’t part of the impeachment articles.
“He’s someone who’s under indictment, and obviously trying to find ways to curry favor with anyone he can by saying what he can to better his position in his particular criminal prosecution,” the source said. “That’s not something that was part of what was investigated by the House, or voted on by the House, or presented by the House in these articles of impeachment. So I think that’s extreme.”
The White House brief argues that the trial should be limited to the articles of impeachment and not go beyond the scope of what the House Democrats presented in their Dec. 18 charges.
“The Senate cannot expand the scope of a trial to consider mere assertions appearing in House reports that the House did not include in the articles of impeachment submitted to a vote. Similarly, House managers trying the case in the Senate must be confined to the specific conduct alleged in the articles approved by the House,” the president’s counsel wrote.
Mr. Trump’s attorneys say his conduct, seeking Ukrainian investigations into suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Mr. Biden’s role in forcing out a Ukrainian prosecutor when he was vice president, was appropriate.
“Uncovering potential foreign interference in U.S. elections is always a legitimate goal, whatever the source of the interference and whether or not it fits with Democrats’ preferred narrative about 2016,” the lawyers said. “Asking about the past cannot be twisted into interference in a future election. Even if facts uncovered about conduct in the last election were to have some impact on the next election, uncovering historical facts is not improper interference. Nor can House Democrats self-servingly equate asking any questions about Ukraine with advocating that Ukraine, instead of Russia, interfered in 2016. Actors in more than one country can interfere in an election at the same time, in different ways and for different purposes.”
They noted that even one of the House Democrats’ star witnesses, former National Security Council aide Fiona Hill, “acknowledged that Ukrainian officials ‘bet on Hillary Clinton winning the  election’ and that ‘they were trying to curry favor with the Clinton campaign,’ including by ‘trying to collect information … on [former Trump campaign manger Paul] Manafort and on other people as well.'”
The president’s attorneys said all of that “provides legitimate grounds for inquiry.”
The White House brief also said the House process during the impeachment inquiry was derived without due process. The president’s attorneys cite House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, who argued during the Clinton impeachment that the president must be able to assert privileges.
They say now that Mr. Nadler, who is an impeachment manager prosecuting the case against Mr. Trump, has based the obstruction of Congress charge on the president asserting legal privileges.
“Where, as here, the principles the president invoked are critical for preserving executive branch prerogatives, treating the assertion of privileges as ‘obstruction’ would do permanent damage to the separation of powers among all three branches,” the brief argues.
The president’s team also attacks impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, for his involvement in the inquiry. The lawyers say Mr. Schiff is a “fact witness” because he communicated with the whistleblower whose complaint launched the investigation into the president’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president, in which Mr. Trump asked for an investigation into his political rival Mr. Biden.
The whistleblower complaint has served as the basis for House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and subsequent charges.
Multiple media outlets have reported that Mr. Schiff’s staff communicated with the whistleblower before the formal complaint was filed. Mr. Schiff has denied having direct communications with the whistleblower.
“Given the role that Chairman Schiff and his staff apparently played in advising the whistleblower, Chairman Schiff made himself a fact witness in these proceedings. The American people understand that Chairman Schiff cannot covertly assist with the submission of a complaint, mislead the public about his involvement, and then pretend to be a neutral “investigator.”
“No wonder Chairman Schiff repeatedly denied requests to subpoena the whistleblower and shut down any questions that he feared might identify the whistleblower,” the White House brief argues.
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