Amy Gardner and
Feb. 2, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. EST
House Democrats made their case to convict former president Donald Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in a sweeping impeachment brief filed with the Senate on Tuesday that accused Trump of whipping his supporters into a “frenzy” and described him as “singularly responsible” for the mayhem that ensued.
In the brief, the nine House impeachment managers argue that Trump is not protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of speech provision, which was never intended, they wrote, to allow a president to “provoke lawless action if he loses at the polls.”
“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 brief states.
Democrats also rejected the claim embraced by many Republicans that it is unconstitutional to convict a president after he has left office — an argument that Trump’s lawyers are expected to make in his defense.
“There is no ‘January Exception’ to impeachment or any other provision of the Constitution,” the House Democrats wrote. “A president must answer comprehensively for his conduct in office from his first day in office through his last.”
Later Tuesday, Trump’s legal team is set to file its initial response to the impeachment trial summons. The Senate trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 9.
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The House Democrats wrote that Trump’s embrace of unfounded accusations that the 2020 election was stolen from him helped foment his supporters’ attack on the Capitol. When those false assertions failed to overturn the election, the Democrats wrote, Trump “summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy, and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
They added: “The Framers themselves would not have hesitated to convict on these facts.”
The House impeachment managers urged senators to bar Trump from ever serving again in elected office: “This is not a case where elections alone are a sufficient safeguard against future abuse; it is the electoral process itself that President Trump attacked and that must be protected from him and anyone else who would seek to mimic his behavior. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a case that more clearly evokes the reasons the Framers wrote a disqualification power into the Constitution.”
The brief made clear Democrats’ intention to build an emotionally compelling impeachment case against Trump in which they have sought out new cellphone footage of the Capitol siege, as well as details about injured police officers.
House Democrats building elaborate, emotionally charged case against Trump
The goal is to present the Senate with fresh evidence that reveals what Trump knew in advance of the Jan. 6 rampage at the Capitol, as well as how his words and actions influenced those who participated. The rioting left five dead, including one member of the U.S. Capitol Police. In addition, two officers, one with the D.C. police department, have since died by suicide.
The effort to present new video evidence and witness testimony appears designed to make Republican senators as uncomfortable as possible as they prepare to vote to acquit Trump, as most have indicated they will do. The prospect of injured police officers describing the brutality of pro-Trump rioters to Republicans who regularly present themselves as advocates of law enforcement could make for an extraordinary, nationally televised scene.
One of Trump’s new impeachment lawyers said Sunday that he has no plans to advance claims about a fraud-ridden, stolen election in the upcoming Senate trial — even though the previous legal team is said to have bowed out after Trump stressed he wanted that to be a focus of his defense.
Atlanta-based attorney David Schoen told The Washington Post in an interview Sunday night that he will not “put forward a theory of election fraud. That’s not what this impeachment trial is about.”
Schoen, who was named to head Trump’s defense team Sunday evening, along with Bruce L. Castor, a former prosecutor in Pennsylvania, said he would concentrate on making the case that it is unconstitutional to impeach a president after he has left office.
A majority of Republican senators have already embraced that position, one that allows them to vote to dismiss the case without considering the merits of the charge against the president.
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In another interview Monday, Schoen said he would mount a two-part strategy, arguing the constitutional issue and citing the First Amendment as a defense to incitement. “If this speech is considered incitement for insurrection, then I think any passionate political speaker is at risk,” he said, adding that Trump fully backs his approach. “I told him what I intend to do and he supports that 100 percent,” he said.
Still, Trump continues to focus on the issue of fraud in talks with associates from his private Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.