Donald Trump endangered the lives of all members of Congress when he aimed a mob of supporters “like a loaded cannon” at the US Capitol, Democrats in the House of Representatives have said.
The Democrats’ legal brief ahead of Mr Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate forcefully links the former president’s baseless efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election to the deadly riot at the Capitol on January 6.
It provides their most detailed case yet for why Mr Trump should be convicted and permanently barred from office.
The brief says Mr Trump bears “unmistakable” blame for actions that directly threatened the underpinnings of American democracy. It argues that he must be found guilty when his impeachment trial opens before the Senate next week on a charge of inciting the siege.
The Democratic managers of the impeachment case wrote: “His conduct endangered the life of every single Member of Congress, jeopardised the peaceful transition of power and line of succession, and compromised our national security. This is precisely the sort of constitutional offence that warrants disqualification from federal office.”
The legal brief lays out for the first time the arguments House Democrats expect to present at the impeachment trial. It not only explicitly faults him for his role in the riot but also aims to pre-emptively rebut defence claims that Mr Trump’s words were somehow protected by the First Amendment or that an impeachment trial is unconstitutional, or even unnecessary, now that he has left office.
The US constitution specifies that disqualification from office can be a punishment for an impeachment conviction.
The legal brief states: “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 behaviour.”
Lawyers for Mr Trump are expected to file their own brief. In a Fox News appearance, one of the lawyers, David Schoen, said he would argue that the trial was unconstitutional, that efforts to bar Mr Trump from office were undemocratic and that his words were protected by the First Amendment.
Democrats made clear that they disagree with all points.
“The only honourable path at that point was for President Trump to accept the results and concede his electoral defeat. Instead, he summoned a mob to Washington, exhorted them into a frenzy, and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue,” they wrote in their 77-page brief.
The Democrats draw heavily on the words of prominent Republicans who have criticised the former president, including Liz Cheney, who voted for his impeachment and said there has never been a “greater betrayal” by a president, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who said Mr Trump “provoked” the rioters.
Though no president has been tried after departing the White House, Democrats say there is precedent, pointing to an 1876 impeachment of a secretary of war who resigned his office in a last-ditch attempt to avoid an impeachment trial. The Senate held it anyway.
The Democrats write that the framers of the Constitution would not have wanted to leave the country defenceless against “a president’s treachery in his final days, allowing him to misuse power, violate his Oath, and incite insurrection against Congress and our electoral institutions” simply because he is leaving office. Setting that precedent now would “horrify the Framers,” the brief says.
“There is no ‘January Exception’ to impeachment or any other provision of the Constitution,” the Democrats wrote. “A president must answer comprehensively for his conduct in office from his first day in office through his last.”
Mr Trump was impeached by the House while still in office, they note, forcing a Senate trial. And there are precedents for trying former officials.
“Trump is personally responsible for a violent attack on the Capitol,” they wrote. “He was impeached while still in office. The case for trying him after he has left office is stronger than any of the precedents.”