Donald Trump’s lawyers have rejected House Democrats’ request for the former president to testify under oath in a Senate impeachment trial that will start in earnest next week.
Mr Trump was impeached last month in a bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives on a charge of inciting an insurrection in connection with the January 6 siege on the US Capitol, when a mob of his supporters stormed the legislative complex in an attack that left five people dead. The attack interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.
Jamie Raskin, the House Democrat who will prosecute the case as lead impeachment manager, sent a letter to Mr Trump and his lawyers on Thursday requesting that he provide testimony under oath, either before or during the trial, which is set to start on Tuesday.
Mr Trump’s lawyers, Bruce Castor Jr and David Schoen, declined the request within hours, accusing the congressman of a “public relations stunt”.
Mr Raskin had proposed that Mr Trump testify next week “concerning [his] conduct on January 6”, adding the impeachment managers “would be pleased to arrange such a testimony at a mutually convenient time and place”.
“If you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6,” Mr Raskin added.
Mr Trump’s lawyers said in response: “There is no such thing as a negative interference in this unconstitutional proceeding”.
They added: “Your letter only confirms . . . you cannot prove your allegations against the 45th president of the United States”.
Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator and fierce ally of Mr Trump, called the letter from Mr Raskin a “political ploy” and told reporters it would not “be in anybody’s interest” for the former president to give evidence.
“It’s just a nightmare for the country to do this,” Mr Graham added.
The entire House Democratic caucus voted to impeach Mr Trump last month. They were joined by 10 Republicans, including Liz Cheney, the Wyoming congresswoman and daughter of former US vice-president Dick Cheney.
The vote made Mr Trump the first president in US history to be impeached twice. His first impeachment came in December 2019, on two charges connected with his efforts to get the Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on Mr Biden and his family.
Mr Trump was acquitted of both charges in a Senate trial, after all but one Republican senator, Mitt Romney, voted to clear him. No witnesses were called in that trial, which was conducted while Republicans still controlled the upper chamber.
It is also unlikely that Mr Trump will be found guilty this time, given two-thirds of the Senate needs to vote to convict under the Constitution. The upper chamber of Congress is currently split 50-50. Last week, all but five Republican senators backed a motion arguing whether the trial is constitutional given Mr Trump is now a private citizen.
Most legal scholars agree that a president can be tried for high crimes and misdemeanours, even after his term is over.
Impeachment managers and Mr Trump’s lawyers both filed legal briefs earlier this week setting out their arguments ahead of the trial.
House Democrats said the evidence was “overwhelming” that Mr Trump had committed a “grievous betrayal of his oath of office”.
In response, Mr Trump’s lawyers said he had “fully and faithfully executed his duties as president of the United States” and had simply “exercised” his free-speech rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution to “express his belief that the election results were suspect” in the run-up to the Capitol assault.