Donald Trump’s legal team has said the former president will not voluntarily testify under oath at his impeachment trial in the Senate next week, where he faces the charge from House Democrats that he incited the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January.
The lead House impeachment manager, Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, wrote to Trump asking him to testify under oath before or during the trial, challenging the former president to explain why he and his lawyers have disputed key factual allegations at the center of their charge that he incited a violent mob to storm the Capitol.
“You denied many factual allegations set forth in the article of impeachment. You have thus attempted to put critical facts at issue,” Raskin wrote in a letter made public on Thursday.
He went on to say that if Trump refused to do so, an adverse inference would be made from his reluctance.
Hours after the letter was released, the Trump adviser Jason Miller said that the former president “will not testify” in what he described as an “unconstitutional proceeding”. Trump’s lawyers dismissed the request as a “public relations stunt”.
The request from House impeachment managers does not require Trump to appear – though the Senate could later force a subpoena – but it does warn that any refusal to testify could be used at trial to support arguments for a conviction. Even if Trump does not testify, the request nonetheless makes clear Democrats’ determination to present an aggressive case against him even though he has left the White House.
The Senate impeachment trial starts on 9 February. Trump is charged with inciting an insurrection on 6 January, when a mob of his supporters broke into the Capitol to interrupt the electoral vote count. Democrats have said a trial is necessary to provide a final measure of accountability for the attack. If he is convicted, the Senate could hold a second vote to disqualify him from seeking office again.
In the letter, Raskin asked that Trump provide testimony about his conduct “either before or during the Senate impeachment trial”, and under cross-examination, as early as Monday, 8 February, and not later than Thursday, 11 February.
The request from Raskin cites the words of Trump’s own attorneys, who in a legal brief earlier this week not only denied that Trump had incited the riot, but also asserted that he had “performed admirably in his role as president, at all times doing what he thought was in the best interests of the American people”.
With that argument, Raskin said, Trump had questioned critical facts in the case “notwithstanding the clear and overwhelming evidence of your constitutional offense”. He said Trump should be able to testify now that he is no longer president.
Raskin said if Trump refuses to appear, the managers will use his refusal against him in the trial – a similar argument put forth by House Democrats in last year’s impeachment trial, when many Trump officials ignored subpoenas. Trump was eventually acquitted of the Democratic charges that he abused his presidential powers by pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden, now the president.
The impeachment managers do not have the authority to subpoena witnesses now since the House has already voted to impeach him. The Senate could vote to subpoena Trump, or any other witnesses, on a simple majority vote during the trial. But it is unclear if the Senate would be willing to do so.
Shortly after Raskin’s letter was made public, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said he would listen to the House managers’ arguments if they felt a subpoena was necessary. But he said that “the more I see what’s already in the public record, the more powerful the case” against Trump, based on his own words and actions.
Trump’s statements before and after the attack on the Capitol “are the most powerful evidence”, Blumenthal said. “His own words incriminate him. They show his guilty intent.”
The South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest GOP allies, said he thought the letter was a “political ploy” and noted that Democrats did not invite or subpoena him to testify before the House, which voted to impeach Trump on 13 January.
Asked if he thought Trump would testify, Graham said it would be a “bad idea”.
“I don’t think that would be in anybody’s interest,” he said.
Associated Press contributed to this report