The House impeachment managers charge that former President Donald Trump is “singularly responsible” for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol last month, arguing that the Senate should convict Trump and bar him from holding future office after he “threatened the constitutional system that protects the fundamental freedoms we cherish.”
The House managers laid out their case against Trump in an 80-page pre-trial legal brief filed Tuesday morning, in which they accused Trump of stirring up violence against Congress in an attempt to upend the peaceful transfer of power. They also provided a constitutional defense for holding an impeachment trial of a former president.
“President Trump’s responsibility for the events of January 6 is unmistakable,” the House impeachment team wrote. “President Trump’s effort to extend his grip on power by fomenting violence against Congress was a profound violation of the oath he swore. If provoking an insurrectionary riot against a Joint Session of Congress after losing an election is not an impeachable offense, it is hard to imagine what would be.”
The House’s brief is the first of several legal filings ahead of the start of the trial on February 9. Trump’s response to the trial summons, in which he is expected to argue that the trial is unconstitutional, is due at 12 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
The legal briefings will provide the backdrop for a case in which the House impeachment managers face a skeptical Senate Republican conference. Last week, 45 of the 50 GOP senators voted to support dismissing the trial on constitutional grounds, a sign that the 67 votes required for conviction are unlikely to materialize.
In their brief Tuesday, the House managers pushed back on the Republican claims, arguing that there is ample history and precedent to hold a trial for Trump.
“There is no ‘January Exception’ to impeachment or any other provision of the Constitution,” the managers wrote. “A president must answer comprehensively for his conduct in office from his first day in office through his last.”
House Democrats noted that Trump was impeached while he still was president, pushing back on Senate Republican arguments that Congress cannot impeach a former official. Still, they argued there’s precedent for impeaching former officials, too, as there have been a handful of cases in US history.
The brief provided the House’s most detailed argument to date for why Trump’s actions surrounding the January 6 attack on the Capitol warranted impeachment. The impeachment managers argue that Trump’s actions in the months leading up to January 6 baselessly claiming the election was stolen from him created the conditions for a violent mob to be aimed “like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue” to attack the Capitol.
“President Trump created a powder keg on January 6. Hundreds were prepared for violence at his direction. They were prepared to do whatever it took to keep him in power,” the managers wrote. “All they needed to hear was that their President needed them to ‘fight like hell.’ All they needed was for President Trump to strike a match.”
In a preview of what’s likely to be argued during next week’s trial, the Democrats’ filing Tuesday underscored how the rioters themselves have cited Trump as the reason they attacked the Capitol.
“Provoked by President Trump’s statements at the rally, many insurrectionists who assaulted the Capitol proudly proclaimed that they were doing President Trump’s bidding,” the managers wrote. “One told police officers that he came as part of a group of ‘patriots’ ‘at the request of the President.’ In a livestreamed video from inside the Capitol, another declared that ‘[o]ur president wants us here.’ “
House Democrats also charged that Trump failed to respond to the riots, including reports that Trump was “delighted” as the riot was unfolding, and noting that his tweets did not attempt to tell the rioters to leave the Capitol. Democrats argued that the events of January 6 and the former President’s involvement had longer-term ramifications that threatened the security of inauguration and beyond. Roughly 25,000 National Guard troops were deployed and state capitols around the country had to enhance security.
The Democrats also highlighted the bipartisan condemnation of the President’s conduct, citing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments that the mob was “provoked by the President” and statements form the 10 Republican members, including No. 3 House Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who voted for impeachment.
“Representative Liz Cheney put the point simply when she recognized that ‘[t]here has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,’ ” the impeachment managers wrote.
The brief also looks to get ahead of the arguments Trump’s team could make. Democrats anticipated, for instance, that Trump’s legal team might argue against the speed at which Democrats moved on impeachment, which the House passed one week after the riots. The managers dismissed those concerns, arguing “this case does not involve secretive conduct, or a hidden conspiracy, requiring months or years of investigation.” The managers also argued that Trump was not simply protected by the First Amendment laws governing free speech.
“The First Amendment protects private citizens from the government; it does not protect government officials from accountability for their own abuses in office,” they wrote.
The House’s impeachment brief also made the case for the Senate to bar Trump from holding future office. If the Senate convicts Trump, which requires a two-thirds majority, it can also hold a vote to prevent him from holding office again.
“Constitutional history, text, and structure, as well as prior Congressional practice, all confirm that the Senate has jurisdiction to try President Trump,” the managers wrote. “So does common sense. While sworn to faithfully execute the laws — and to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution — President Trump incited insurrection against the United States government. His conduct endangered the life of every single Member of Congress, jeopardized the peaceful transition of power and line of succession, and compromised our national security.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.