WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for President Donald Trump, who initially sought a lengthy impeachment trial so he could mount a robust public defense, instead urged the Senate on Monday to "swiftly reject" impeachment charges, calling them "deficient on their face" and an "affront to the Constitution."
One day before the impeachment trial begins in earnest, the president's legal team submitted a 171-page legal brief to the Senate, its first major filing in the case, asserting that the two articles of impeachment approved by the House last month are unconstitutional and threaten to set a dangerous precedent by constraining future presidents in foreign affairs.
The president's filing largely sidesteps evidence presented by the House in its own brief to the Senate and rejects the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges as insufficient to warrant convicting Trump and making him the first U.S. president removed from office.
Declaring that Trump did "absolutely nothing wrong," the president's brief provides the most detailed look yet at the lines of defense Trump's legal team intends to use once the trial commences. Claiming the evidence against Trump is "flimsy" and the impeachment case is "rigged," it is a mix of legal arguments and tweet-ready slogans.
"All of this is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn," the lawyers, led by Trump's personal attorney Jay Sekulow and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, wrote. "The articles should be rejected and the president should immediately be acquitted."
Instead of contesting the facts, Trump's lawyers argued that the actions that prompted impeachment -- the president's withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine and a coveted White House meeting in an effort to pressure the country's leader into publicly opening an investigation into Joe Biden, a potential 2020 opponent, and into a debunked theory about the 2016 election -- do not constitute a crime.
"The Impeachment Clause did not confer upon Congress a roving license to make up new standards of conduct for government officials and to permit removal from office merely on a conclusion that conduct was 'bad' if there was not an existing law that it violated," the president's brief argues.
Most constitutional scholars disagree with that argument, noting that impeachment trials of presidents and federal judges have never previously required indictable criminality. Impeachment is a noncriminal process that can lead to removal from office, but not prison or a fine.
Trump's lawyers counter that previous presidential impeachments all involved a specific crime, such as the perjury charge leveled against President Bill Clinton in 1998.
While Section 4 of Article 2 of the Constitution says a president or vice president can be removed for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors," most scholars say the broad language is meant as a catch-all for misconduct injurious to the state and society at large, not the violation of a criminal statute.