March 5, 2021

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House Democrats request Trump testify under oath in impeachment trial

3 min read

WASHINGTON – Democratic prosecutors in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump requested Thursday that the former president testify under oath either before or during next week’s Senate trial.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a former constitutional law professor leading the Democrats’ case, wrote a letter to Trump saying his response to the article of impeachment had “denied many factual allegations,” and therefore Democrats requested he testify as early as next Monday and no later than next Thursday.

“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,” Raskin wrote, referring to the Capitol riots last month.

Democrats want to ask Trump questions about arguments his lawyers made in a pretrial brief filed Tuesday. His attorneys, in a 14-page filing, argued Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud, which Democrats alleged incited the riot, were protected free speech and denied he played any part in inciting the attack, which left multiple people dead. If Trump testifies, the Democratic impeachment managers are likely to press him on the arguments in the brief and question whether his remarks had no relation to the riot. 

Democrats in the House impeached Trump in January for inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. The Senate begins oral arguments Tuesday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said he had been in contact with Trump, called the request for Trump’s testimony “a political showboat move,” noting the House didn’t call any witnesses before their impeachment vote Jan. 13.

Trump’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s appearance at the trial would be voluntary unless the Senate votes to compel witnesses. 

The Senate has not yet decided whether it will call witnesses or adopted rules for the trial. The Senate, when it was led by Republicans rather than Democrats, voted not to call witnesses at Trump’s first trial last year.

If witnesses are called, the House Democratic lawmakers prosecuting the case, Trump’s defense team and senators could each ask questions.

If a witness resists a subpoena, the Senate could vote to subpoena testimony. Congress typically authorizes its counsel to ask federal courts to enforce subpoenas, but those decisions can take months or years to resolve. Trump’s Justice Department fought numerous subpoenas for witnesses and documents during the investigation of his first impeachment over his dealings with Ukraine.

Some senators have expressed reluctance about calling witnesses because doing so could prolong the trial. 

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of Senate Republican leadership, told reporters on Tuesday a trial could “stretch into March or April” if witnesses are called. 

“Neither side is eager to stretch this out for weeks but that’s what will happen if you start calling witnesses,” Blunt said. 

Asked about calling Trump as a witness, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters, he’d be “inclined” to let the managers “try the case as they see fit” if they thought Trump’s testimony would “add weight to the evidence.”  

“There’s no innocent explanation for what he did,” he said. 

But a key moderate Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said it would be a “dog and pony show” if Trump testified. Manchin declined to comment on whether Trump’s testimony would add value to the trial, saying it’s the “House’s call” to ask him to testify. 

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