Under the resolution, which could face a vote as early as Tuesday, lawyers for Trump could move early in the proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, a senior Republican leadership aide said, a motion that would likely fail.
Under the Republican proposal, the Senate would have to vote later on whether to even allow materials collected by the House during its impeachment investigation to be admitted as part of the trial.
The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, called the GOP leader’s proposed rules package a “national disgrace.”
“It’s clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said. He vowed to propose votes Tuesday to try to amend the rules package. He called it a “cover-up.”
Trump, only the fourth of 45 American presidents to face the possibility of being ousted by impeachment, is charged with abusing the powers of his office by asking Ukraine to investigate a Democratic political rival, Joe Biden, and obstructing a congressional inquiry into his conduct.
Democrats say Trump abused his power by withholding US military assistance to Ukraine as part of a pressure campaign and obstructed Congress by refusing to hand over documents and barring administration officials from testifying, even when subpoenaed by House investigators.
Trump’s defence argued neither charge constituted a crime or impeachable offence, that he was within his rights as president to make decisions about foreign policy and what information to give Congress, and that the House pursued a flawed and one-sided process before impeaching him on December 18.
The memo’s executive summary asserted that the House Democrats’ “novel theory of ‘abuse of power'” was not an impeachable offence and supplanted the US Constitution’s standard of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanours.”
It rejected the obstruction of Congress charge as “frivolous and dangerous,” saying the president exercised his legal rights by resisting congressional demands for information, also known as subpoenas.
It also accused the House Democrats of conducting a rigged process, said they succeeded in proving only that Trump had done nothing wrong and argued, as the White House has repeatedly, that this was an effort to overturn Trump’s 2016 election victory and to prevent his re-election in November.
While the Senate is highly unlikely to remove Trump from office, it is important for him to try to diminish the Democratic accusations to limit political damage to his bid for a second term.
In part of his legal filing, Trump’s lawyers cast their arguments in unabashedly political terms.
“They want to use impeachment to interfere in the 2020 election,” the memo said. “Put simply, Democrats have no response to the President’s record of achievement in restoring prosperity to the American economy, rebuilding America’s military, and confronting America’s adversaries abroad.”
House Democrats in their initial court filing over the weekend called Trump’s conduct the “worst nightmare” of the framers of the Constitution.
“President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain,” the House prosecutors wrote, “and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.”
The seven House impeachment “managers” who will make the Democrats case for Trump’s removal to the Senate said he had “jeopardised our national security and our democratic self-governance.”
“President Trump maintains that the Senate cannot remove him even if the House proves every claim in the Articles of impeachment. That is a chilling assertion. It is also dead wrong,” they wrote, arguing that despite Trump’s “stonewalling,” the House had amassed “overwhelming evidence of his guilt.”
Trump’s team says he was well within his constitutional authority to press Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky last year to investigate Biden and his son Hunter as part of what Trump says was an anti-corruption drive. The Bidens deny any wrongdoing and Trump’s allegations have been widely debunked.
While Trump’s legal papers laid out extensive arguments as to why he did not commit a crime, the General Accounting Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, said last week that Trump did commit a crime by withholding US military assistance to Ukraine, money that was ultimately sent after a brief pause.
Seeking to show he is still conducting presidential business despite the trial, Trump left late on Monday for Davos, Switzerland, to join global leaders at the World Economic Forum. Some advisers argued against his making the trip, where he will meet Iraqi, Pakistani, Swiss, Kurdish and European Union leaders.
As a result, he will be in the Alps when the Senate on Tuesday engages in a potentially bruising battle over whether witnesses should be allowed to testify in the trial and whether new documents could be introduced, as Democrats wish.
The resolution McConnell unveiled on Monday would give House Democratic prosecutors and Trump lawyers 48 hours, evenly split, to present their arguments over a maximum of four days.
It drew immediate criticism from Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who accused McConnell of failing to stick to the rules used during President Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment, calling it “nothing short of a national disgrace.”
“It’s clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said in a statement.
While there could be a fast-track trial, Democrats could slow things down by proposing that a series of witnesses testify. If senators vote to subpoena witnesses, that also would consume time by requiring that the witnesses first be deposed before deciding on whether they actually testify to the Senate.
No president has ever been removed as a direct result of impeachment. One, Richard Nixon, resigned before he could be removed. Andrew Johnson and Clinton were impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate.