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Election 2020

Impeachment Arguments Open With Dueling Filings: Key Takeaways

Impeachment Arguments Open With Dueling Filings: Key Takeaways

A U.S. Capitol police officer stands near the American flag before articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump are delivered by House impeachment managers in Washington on Jan. 15.

A U.S. Capitol police officer stands near the American flag before articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump are delivered by House impeachment managers in Washington on Jan. 15.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
A U.S. Capitol police officer stands near the American flag before articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump are delivered by House impeachment managers in Washington on Jan. 15.
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

House Democrats distilled their case for impeaching President Donald Trump into a 111-page document that will serve as a playbook for the Senate trial beginning on Tuesday.

The report, released on Saturday, lays out their findings related to Trump’s actions toward Ukraine from weeks of impeachment hearings in the House, outlining their accusations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The White House also released its first formal response to the president’s impeachment, offering a terse six-page brief assailing Democrats for trying to reverse the outcome of the 2016 election.

Here are the key takeaways:

Incorporating new evidence

The House managers cited new developments since the House’s Dec. 18 impeachment vote. Most notable in Saturday’s brief was a government watchdog finding that the Trump administration broke the law by withholding congressionally approved aid for Ukraine.

The report from the Government Accountability Office released Thursday undercut a Republican talking point that Trump and his administration didn’t commit any crimes. The GAO found that the 1974 Impoundment Control Act prohibits Trump from superseding Congress’s power of the purse for his own policy priorities.

However, new material from Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, was only mentioned in a footnote. Parnas, who was arrested and indicted for campaign finance violations, turned over additional documents and phone records to House investigators this month.

Citing the Mueller report

Democrats referenced former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election to establish an “ominous pattern” of behavior from Trump. They used it to suggest a pattern where Trump has more than once welcomed foreign interference in U.S. elections -- and sought to obstruct investigations of those allegations.

“Allowing this pattern to continue without repercussion would send the clear message that President Trump is correct in his view that no governmental body can hold him accountable for wrongdoing,” according to the brief. “That view is erroneous and exceptionally dangerous.”

Neither of the two articles of impeachment adopted by the House mentions Mueller or his findings.

Clearing Biden of wrongdoing

House Democrats also used the trial brief to clear the name of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is now a leading candidate to challenge Trump in 2020. They sought to refute the GOP claim that Trump was justified in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden because his son, Hunter, served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company.

The trial brief says Biden, as vice president, was carrying out official U.S. policy, supported by allies and lawmakers of both parties, to pressure Ukraine to remove a prosecutor widely regarded as corrupt. Republicans accuse Biden of protecting his son by halting an investigation of Burisma, although the Ukrainian prosecutor had already closed a probe of the gas company.

Saturday’s filing also discredits the claim that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Various impeachment witnesses expressed frustration that Republicans have repeated theories discredited by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Democrats argue Trump presents an ongoing threat

The impeachment managers said senators must remove Trump from office to prevent future harm to American democracy and government. Along with questions of election security, they say acquitting Trump would allow future presidents to misdirect taxpayer money for political gain and would upset the balance of power laid out in the Constitution.

“The Senate should convict and remove President Trump to avoid serious and long-term damage to our democratic values and the Nation’s security,” according to the brief. “Failure to remove President Trump would signal that a president’s personal interests may take precedence over those of the Nation, alarming our allies and emboldening our adversaries.”

Trump brief echoes president’s tweets

The White House’s defiant response to the Senate trial, also filed Saturday, insists the transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s leader makes “absolutely clear that the president did nothing wrong,” echoing Trump’s repeated tweets that his critics should, “READ THE TRANSCRIPT.”

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow, his personal lawyer, wrote that Trump’s call was “perfectly legal.” Trump has frequently described it as a “perfect” call.

Their response also repeats several other arguments that Trump has made repeatedly, including by criticizing House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff for his exaggerated dramatization of Trump’s phone call in a hearing.

The White House is due to file a fuller response on Monday.