The House Democrats soon to prosecute the impeachment case against President Trump huddled in the Capitol on Sunday for eleventh-hour preparations ahead of the Senate trial, which opens Tuesday.
Other attendees included at least four of the seven Democratic impeachment managers — Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Val Demings (Fla.), Sylvia Garcia (Texas) and Jason Crow (Colo.) — as well as a handful of senior aides and attorneys on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
All were acutely tight-lipped about the details surrounding their last-minute strategy session.
“I’m really not going to comment except to say we’re just doing our trial preparation,” Schiff said as he left the gathering. The process, he added, is “coming along fine.”
After nearly a month of delay, Pelosi tapped her team of Democratic impeachment managers last Wednesday — the same day the House passed two impeachment resolutions on the chamber floor — and the seven lawmakers marched the articles across the Capitol to the Senate just hours later.
It remains unclear how the roles and responsibilities will be divvied up between the seven managers when the Senate trial launches Tuesday. Schiff on Sunday declined to comment on the issue.
As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff was a natural fit to lead the trial phase of the impeachment proceedings. It was his committee that spearheaded the Democrats’ impeachment investigation, which centered on allegations that Trump had withheld $391 million in foreign aid to Ukraine in an effort to coerce that country’s leaders to investigate the president’s political opponents.
Trump and his Republican allies have argued that the administration was simply fighting foreign corruption generally without targeting anyone specifically. The pressure campaign was designed to protect U.S. taxpayer dollars, they say, not damage Trump’s opponents.
But Democrats — armed with testimony from 17 diplomats and national security officials, among other evidence — accused Trump of using his office illegally for personal political benefit.
Last month, Democrats passed their two articles, charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In doing so, Trump became just the third president in the country’s history to be impeached.
The document includes several new bits of evidence that have emerged since the Dec. 18 House impeachment votes. But the central thrust of the Democrats’ allegations remains unchanged heading into the trial: Trump, they say, abused his office and threatened national security in pressing a foreign leader to interfere in a domestic election and then covered it up as Democrats sought to investigate. That, Democrats contend, merits his removal.
The White House has a decidedly different view. And shortly after the Democrats released their trial brief Saturday evening, two lawyers representing Trump offered a short response to the specific impeachment charges.
Among other arguments, Trump’s lawyers accuse Democrats of launching a politically motivated attack on the president designed to both overturn his 2016 victory and undermine his prospects for reelection this year.
The administration also maintains that abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not crimes, let alone offenses meriting impeachment.
“The articles of impeachment violate the Constitution,” said Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow and Pat Cipollone. “They are defective in their entirety.”
Democrats were quick to fire back, attacking the White House for pushing a “dangerous” argument that, they contend, disregards Congress’s constitutional responsibility to be a check on presidential powers.
“If the president were correct, it would represent a fundamental alteration in the American constitutional order,” said a Democratic aide working on impeachment.
Schiff and his team of impeachment managers are slated to meet in the Capitol again on Monday, when they’re expected to perform a walk-through of the Senate chamber ahead of Tuesday’s trial.