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DJ Trump Dismisses House Impeachment Managers' Request That He Testify -- Update

· 02/04/2021 16:39
By Siobhan Hughes and Lindsay Wise

WASHINGTON -- Former President Donald Trump spurned a request from House impeachment managers that he testify next week as part of the Senate trial on a charge that he incited an insurrection last month at the U.S. Capitol.

"Two days ago you filed an answer in which you denied many factual allegations set forth in the article of impeachment," wrote Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.) in a letter. "You have thus attempted to put critical facts at issue notwithstanding the clear and overwhelming evidence of your constitutional offense."

"In light of your disputing these factual allegations, I write to invite you to provide testimony under oath," added Mr. Raskin, the lead impeachment manager.

Trump adviser Jason Miller said Thursday that "the president will not testify in an unconstitutional proceeding."

In a letter to Mr. Raskin, Trump lawyers Bruce Castor and David Schoen called the invitation to testify a "public relations stunt."

"Your letter only confirms what is known to everyone: You cannot prove your allegations against the 45th president of the United States, who is now a private citizen," they wrote.

Republican lawmakers quickly rejected the request, and even some Democrats said it would be a bad idea to hear from the former president.

"It's obviously a political ploy on their part," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.).

Asked if Mr. Trump should testify, Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) said, "I think it's a terrible idea." Pressed on why, he said, "Have you met President Trump?"

The House impeached Mr. Trump on Jan. 13 in a 232-197 vote, with 10 Republicans joining all Democratic members. Earlier this week, Mr. Trump's legal team said it was unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a former president, and that in any event the former president was only exercising his First Amendment rights to express his belief that the election results were suspect. No sitting or former president has ever testified in person at an impeachment trial.

A January report from the Congressional Research Service, the public-policy research arm of Congress, concluded that while the constitutionality of trying a former president is open to debate, the weight of scholarly authority agrees that former officials can be impeached and tried.

The House managers said they wanted Mr. Trump to provide testimony as early as Monday, Feb. 8, and as late as Thursday, Feb. 11. The trial kicks off in earnest on Feb. 9. The managers said any testimony would include cross-examination.

The request clarifies what had been one of the central mysteries involving the trial: whether witnesses would be requested. The Senate still hasn't devised rules covering the impeachment trial, leaving outstanding critical details such as its duration and whether anyone would testify either in person or through a deposition.

The Senate could seek to compel Mr. Trump's testimony by subpoena, and the House Judiciary Committee chair could also issue a subpoena, typically after a vote in committee.

Any testimony by Mr. Trump would be a blockbuster event, but also could carry risks for the former president.

"'Come into my parlor,' said the spider to the fly," said Frank Bowman, an impeachment expert who teaches at the University of Missouri's law school. "The obvious risks are that he would have a terribly difficult time explaining his course of conduct from the election to Jan. 6."

Mr. Raskin wrote that if Mr. Trump declined to testify, House impeachment managers would have the right to establish that the Senate jurors should draw "a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021."

Republicans said the last-minute request for Mr. Trump's testimony highlighted a weakness in the Democrats' case, reflecting a rush to impeach Mr. Trump a second time without fully developing a case, such as by calling witnesses.

"The House didn't do their work as a grand jury, and they expect the Senate to do their work," said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, gave the House impeachment managers the benefit of the doubt.

"If the impeachment managers from the House want to hear from Donald Trump directly, I'm all for it," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.). "There's plenty of oxygen in that room."

The biggest problem for the managers will be establishing that Mr. Trump intended to cause the riot, said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who has provided guidance to Senate Republicans as they prepared for the trial. Intention is a component of proving that someone had incited an insurrection in a criminal context, law professors have said. (An impeachable offense is a crime against the Constitution and need not violate a criminal law.)

"The House insisted on an article of impeachment for incitement to insurrection -- that is the deepest possible hole they could dig," Mr. Turley said. "They have to show the president intended to trigger an insurrection and rebellion."

Mr. Turley said House managers also could have requested that people around Mr. Trump testify as to his intentions, but hadn't done so.

--Rebecca Ballhaus contributed to this article.

Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com and Lindsay Wise at lindsay.wise@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 04, 2021 16:39 ET (21:39 GMT)

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