The House impeachment managers on Thursday requested Donald Trump testify at his upcoming Senate impeachment trial, in a dramatic move to try to get the former President on the record about his conduct surrounding the January 6 riots at the Capitol.
But Trump’s legal team quickly responded by rejecting the invitation in a terse response to the House impeachment team, putting the decision back on the Democrats over whether to try to compel Trump’s testimony with a subpoena.
Lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin sent a letter to Trump’s attorney Thursday requesting that Trump testify before or during the upcoming impeachment trial, which begins on Tuesday, arguing that his testimony was needed after he disputed the House’s allegations that he incited the insurrection at the Capitol.
“Two days ago, you filed an Answer in which you denied many factual allegations set forth in the article of impeachment,” Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, wrote. “You have thus attempted to put critical facts at issue notwithstanding the clear and overwhelming evidence of your constitutional offense. In light of your disputing these factual allegations, I write to invite you to provide testimony under oath, either before or during the Senate impeachment trial, concerning your conduct on January 6, 2021.”
Trump’s lawyers quickly responded to Raskin’s request on Thursday, writing back in a three-paragraph letter, saying the request was a sign the House could not prove its allegations against Trump.
“The use of our Constitution to bring a purported impeachment proceeding is much too serious to try to play these games,” wrote Trump’s attorneys, Bruce Castor and David Schoen.
Trump adviser Jason Miller confirmed that Trump was rejecting the request, telling CNN, “The President will not testify in an unconstitutional proceeding.”
Senior aides talked Trump out of going to the House floor to defend himself ahead of his second impeachment in January, a similar tactic he also considered the first time he was impeached.
The swift rejection of the request for testimony raises the question of whether Democrats will try to subpoena Trump to testify for the trial. The House’s letter did not mention a subpoena. Raskin instead suggested the impeachment managers would use his refusal against him, writing, “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.”
Raskin declined to comment Thursday when asked whether he would subpoena Trump if he declined to appear. In a statement Thursday night, Raskin did not threaten a subpoena.
“Today, we offered President Trump the opportunity to testify about the events of January 6 and he refused to do so. Despite his lawyers’ rhetoric, any official accused of inciting armed violence against the government of the United States should welcome the chance to testify openly and honestly — that is, if the official had a defense,” Raskin said. “We will prove at trial that President Trump’s conduct was indefensible. His immediate refusal to testify speaks volumes and plainly establishes an adverse inference supporting his guilt.”
At the first impeachment trial, Democrats sought testimony from Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, not Trump himself. But the Democrats’ attempt to subpoena Bolton failed after Republicans voted against hearing from any witnesses in the trial before Trump was acquitted.
The question of whether the House managers would seek witnesses had been looming over the start of Trump’s second impeachment trial next week, as senators in both parties have been urging a speedy trial so the Senate can move on and work on President Joe Biden’s agenda. But the House managers and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had remained quiet on the question of witnesses until Thursday’s letter.
Senators in both parties seemed to pan the idea on Thursday.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat, said it would be a “dog and pony show.” Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, called it a “terrible idea.”
“Have you met President Trump?” Coons said to reporters when asked to explain his thinking.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is a close ally of the former President, said it wouldn’t be “in anybody’s interest” for Trump to testify.
“It’s just a political showboat move to do this, and they didn’t call him in the House,” Graham said.
While Trump’s testimony at a Senate trial would create a made-for-TV moment at the trial, it’s unclear whether it would change the outcome of the trial. Forty-five of the 50 Republican senators voted last week to support dismissing the trial on the ground that an impeachment trial for a former president is unconstitutional.
Asked Thursday whether the House managers were walking into a likely acquittal of Trump because of that vote, Pelosi shot back, “They don’t know that.”
“Why don’t we just wait and let them make their case” Pelosi said. “If we were not to follow up with this we might as well remove any penalty from the Constitution.”
The House impeached Trump last month on a charge of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol. In a pretrial brief filed Tuesday, the House impeachment managers accused Trump of being “singularly responsible” for the deadly riots, saying Trump’s actions spreading false conspiracy theories that the election was stolen incited his supporters to attack the Capitol and try to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power by stopping Congress from certifying the election.
Trump’s lawyers argued in a legal brief Tuesday that the Senate impeachment trial was unconstitutional because Trump was no longer president, and that Trump did not incite the rioters. Trump’s legal team also argued that Trump’s speech was protected by the First Amendment, while contending that Trump’s false claims about the election could not be proven inaccurate.
In the letter Thursday, Raskin asked that Trump testify sometime between Monday and Thursday next week. The trial is slated to begin on Tuesday.
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.