With the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump set to begin in February, nine prominent Republican lawyers, including two former officials in the Trump administration, have signed a letter urging GOP senators to “consider the evidence” before deciding how to vote on conviction.
The letter, obtained by CNN and organized by the nonprofit Republicans for the Rule of Law, is addressed to Republican senators and calls the impeachment article passed by the House a “grave accusation” and says the trial is “not the time for petty, partisan politics.”
“We urge every Senator to consider the evidence presented by the House without prejudice or political tint, and with an open mind,” reads the letter. “We particularly urge that, if the evidence supports a vote to convict the former president and disqualify him from future office, no Senator let partisan or electoral considerations alter that conclusion.”
Among the signatories are former Trump officials John Mitnick, former general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security, and Robert B. Shanks, the general counsel for the Peace Corps from 2017 to 2020 and a former Justice Department official under President Ronald Reagan.
Mitnick was fired in 2019 after pushing back on a White House proposal to release undocumented immigrants into sanctuary cities.
“For national security and the rule of law, it is necessary that former President Trump be held accountable for inciting the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol, the aim of which was to prevent the Congress from carrying out its constitutional function to count the votes of the Electoral College,” Mitnick told CNN.
Both Mitnick and Shanks say they support convicting Trump. Last October, they both endorsed Joe Biden for President in a statement organized by the anti-Trump group Defending Democracy Together and signed by over 70 former lawmakers and national security officials in past Republican administrations.
The letter does not take a position on whether Trump should be convicted. Republicans for the Rule of Law is run by Republican operative Sarah Longwell and former Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. The group is affiliated with Defending Democracy Together and has advocated for positions in opposition to Trump, including running TV ads during the previous impeachment investigation calling on Republicans to seek out the facts.
“I think that for me, at least, the importance of this letter is to try to make the point that we are at a seminal moment in American history,” Shanks told CNN. “No President has ever tried through force, threat of force, intimidation, to prevent a free and fair election from being consummated. It just demands consequences.”
Lobbying Senate Republicans
Many of the lawyers who signed the letter served under previous Republican presidents, and several are members of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal organization.
Among the names are former Justice Department officials Charles Fried (under Reagan), Donald Ayer and Stuart Gerson (under George H.W. Bush), and Peter Keisler (under George W. Bush); former George W. Bush Homeland Security official Paul Rosenzweig; former Reagan White House lawyer Alan Raul; and Marisa Maleck, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The letter is the latest example of how influential Republicans are lobbying senators ahead of the impeachment trial. The effort includes multiple former Trump administration officials, donors, former members of Congress, and current and former Capitol Hill aides — all encouraging Republican senators to vote to convict Trump. A set of talking points circulating among Republicans charges that “it is difficult to find a more anti-conservative outburst by a U.S. president than Donald Trump the last two months.”
For Trump to be convicted, 17 Republican senators would have to join all 50 Democrats. While no Republican has publicly declared their intent to support conviction, several have denounced Trump’s actions surrounding the January 6 attack on the Capitol. On the other hand, an increasing number of Senate Republicans have said they oppose convicting Trump, and loyalists to Trump have argued in the conservative media against taking a stand against the former President.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, has signaled his openness to vote for conviction.
In a deal struck Friday between McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the ceremonial functions of the impeachment trial will occur this week, with the articles being presented to the Senate on Monday and senators being sworn in as jurors on Tuesday. Then the trial will pause, while the House impeachment managers and Trump’s legal team exchange pre-trial briefs for two weeks. The final briefs would be due on February 9, allowing the trial itself to begin.
A constitutional argument
Some of the debate among Republicans in the Senate concerns whether it is constitutional to convict a former President who has already left office. Republican senators who have said they will vote to acquit cite a Jan. 12 op-ed in The Washington Post by former federal judge and conservative legal luminary J. Michael Luttig, who writes that an impeachment trial after Trump left office would be unconstitutional.
“I think a lot of people would like a reason not to convict,” said a former Republican Senate staffer.
But other Republican legal experts are pushing back with GOP senators.
“It feels like the weight of the energy in Washington with legal conservatives is pretty strongly in favor of impeachment,” said Gregg Nunziata, a former counsel to the Senate Republican conference who has reached out to senators himself.
And Mitnick told CNN that he concurs with a recent letter signed by more than 150 constitutional scholars arguing the Senate can convict a former federal official who has been impeached by the House.
“Despite the expiration of President Trump’s term of office, the Senate may lawfully take up the article of impeachment, try and convict him, and disqualify him from holding future office,” Mitnick said.