Former President Donald Trump brushed aside impeachment managers’ demand Thursday that he testify at his looming Senate trial, accusing House Democrats of trying to turn the weighty proceedings into “a public relations stunt.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat and leader of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment team, sent the stunning demand for testimony in a letter to Mr. Trump.
He said the former president needed to defend under oath his behavior surrounding the election and the events of Jan. 6. He also said a refusal would be evidence of Mr. Trump’s guilt.
“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, 2021,” the congressman wrote.
The former president’s legal team brushed aside the demand.
“The use of our Constitution to bring purported impeachment proceedings is much too serious to try to play these games,” Trump attorneys David Schoen and Bruce Castor Jr. wrote in their reply.
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They also chided Mr. Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, for suggesting that Mr. Trump’s refusal would be evidence of guilt.
“As you certainly know, there is no such thing as a negative inference in this unconstitutional proceeding,” they wrote. “Your letter only confirms what is known to everyone: you cannot prove your allegations against the 45th president of United States, who is now a private citizen.”
Mr. Raskin, in a statement afterward, repeated his assertion that if Mr. Trump had a real defense he “should welcome the chance to testify openly and honestly.”
“His immediate refusal to testify speaks volumes and plainly establishes an adverse inference supporting his guilt,” Mr. Raskin said.
The trial is slated to begin Tuesday. Mr. Trump, who left office on Jan. 20, stands charged with one count of inciting insurrection on Jan. 6.
The idea of having Mr. Trump appear went over badly with senators from both parties, who ultimately control what happens in the trial.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, said such an appearance would turn the trial into “a dog and pony show.” Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat and a close ally of President Biden, called it a “terrible idea.”
“Have you met President Trump?” he told reporters by way of explanation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and close ally of the former president, called the attempt “obviously a political ploy” by the House impeachment team.
He said it wouldn’t be “in anybody’s interest” to force the former president to testify.
“It’s just a nightmare for the country to do this. It’s just a political showboat move to do this, and they didn’t call him in the House,” Mr. Graham told reporters.
A few senators said they would listen to both sides’ arguments over witnesses and testimony, but ultimately it would be up to the Senate to decide what to allow.
In this case, the 100 members of the Senate who will sit in judgment of Mr. Trump are also personal witnesses and, in some ways, victims, because most of them were at the Capitol during the attack.
Mr. Raskin said Mr. Trump opened the door to his testimony when his legal team filed a reply to the impeachment denying his conduct surrounding the election was responsible for the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol.
Although that was part of Mr. Trump’s argument, most of his focus was on the legality of attempting to try and punish a president no longer in office.
Mr. Raskin offered to meet Mr. Trump at a mutually agreed location to take testimony and said cross-examination by the president’s legal team would also be in order.
Democrats did not give Mr. Trump or his team any chance to offer input when they powered the article of impeachment through the House last month, a week before the president left office.
Republicans and some legal experts have suggested that is a fatal flaw in the case because it left no record for senators to judge.
“The House didn’t do their work as a grand jury, and they expect the Senate to do their work. And we, and I don’t know why we have to pick up the pieces for the inadequacy of the House of Representatives,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
In a test vote last week, almost all Republican senators suggested that they see constitutional problems with trying a former president.
“Well, the trial is already over. They don’t have the votes to convict,” said Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican who forced last week’s vote. “This is just, I think, continuing to embitter the public. It’s divisive, and it does nothing to promote unity. I think it’s a big mistake on the Democrats’ part.”