What are Republicans' doubts over Trump’s impeachment defence?
GOP Senators have criticised Trump's legal team for focusing on already-disproven election fraud claims, suggesting instead a different tack.
Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in the Senate will begin next week, on 9 February. House Democrats passed the motion to impeach the former president with a majority of 232-197 on 13 January. The yays included 10 House Republicans.
Now comes the real challenge for Democrats. A two-thirds majority will be necessary to convict Trump in the upper chamber. With a majority of one vote, this means Democrats must convince at least 17 Republicans to turn against their leader, an unlikely eventuality at this juncture.
Now Trump’s defence lawyers must decide which angle to focus on.
Trump is keen to continue his position with unfounded claims of election fraud, that the election was unfairly stolen from him. The notion was tried repeatedly in courts up and down the country, to no avail. Overall, lawyers and plaintiffs acting on behalf of Trump’s cause were rejected, withdrew claims, or were laughed out of court in over 60 separate cases. Only one, which ruled on ballot curing in Pennsylvania was seen to have merit. Two cases were even elevated to the Supreme Court, which twice refused to take up the cases, siding against Trump and affirming what had come before.
Trump is so keen to keep his eye on his tired, desperate prize that he broke ties last weekend with his legal team, partly over the issue.
What do Republicans think of Trump’s impeachment defence?
Republicans have now weighed in to dissuade Trump from focusing on election fraud in his defence. On Wednesday, just a day after Trump’s team delivered its first official response to the House’s impeachment charge, GOP Senators moved to discourage the line of defence detailed which involved raising already-discredited election fraud claims.
They warned Trump’s lawyers that revisiting the already-disproven allegations that there was widespread voter fraud in November’s election would only leave room for failure.
Several GOP members have come out to publicly urge Trump to stick with the defence that the very article of impeachment is unconstitutional, as Trump is no longer in office and therefore cannot now be tried as president.
“The point here is to avoid conviction. It’s not a great moment for trying to score political points,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer R-N.D., who has criticised the House’s case for convicting Trump. “And I don’t think litigating the election is a winning strategy. I think it’s got lower percentage of success than a Hail Mary in the Super Bowl.”
Last week, 45 of 50 Republicans voted that it would be unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a former president, which was short of the number needed to block the motion even coming to trial.
“I’d take the cue from what worked with the first vote in the Senate: it’s unconstitutional,” commented Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., who said the procedural argument is the best defence and is already working, with Trump on track to an acquittal.
Drawing the defence’s focus towards the constitutionality of the trial itself also serves the purpose of avoiding scrutiny over whether Trump incited the deadly riot which took place on 6 January in Washington.
What does Trump’s legal team say about the GOP Senators’ doubts?
Trump’s lead defence attorney Bruce Castor said earlier Wednesday that he has not been pressured to repeat the false claims that the election was “stolen” from Trump and insisted that his defence of the ex-president will focus strictly on the “technical” arguments. But just a day earlier, in his team’s first official response to the impeachment charge, they explicitly doubled down on the false allegations about widespread fraud in the 2020 election, report Politico.
Appearing on KYW Newsradio Philadelphia, Castor maintained that the fraud claims will not be a part of his defense of Trump on the Senate floor and said the Senate has no jurisdiction over a private citizen because “it would be almost the equivalent of the president having died - they can’t remove him from office because he simply is unable to be removed because he’s not there.”
Joe Biden broke his silence on the impeachment process this week in an interview with People, saying that to not hold trial would be a farce; "he was impeached by the House, and it has to move forward, otherwise it would come off as farcical," the president said.
What is in the article of impeachment?
In simple terms, to be impeached means that a President or other federal official must have committed one of the violations described by the Constitution as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The article of impeachment drawn up by Democrats the very night of 6 January, when an insurrection on the Capitol complex endangered hundreds and killed five is brief. It charges Trump with threatening “the integrity of the democratic system”, interfering “with the peaceful transition of power”, and imperilling “a coequal branch of Government.”