WASHINGTON (Reuters) – House of Representatives Democrats who will prosecute former President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial asked him on Thursday to testify next week about his conduct prior to hundreds of his supporters launching a deadly attack on the Capitol.
The House last month impeached Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection in a fiery speech urging his followers to “fight” his election defeat shortly before they stormed the Capitol, fighting with police and sending lawmakers scrambling for their safety.
Trump’s attorneys this week rejected the charge, contending that he “fully and faithfully executed his duties as president” and asserting that his claims that his election defeat was the result of widespread fraud – which were baseless – were protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“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,” Democratic lawmaker Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, wrote in a letter to Trump and his attorneys.
Raskin asked Trump to provide testimony between Feb. 8 and 11.
“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.
It was not immediately clear whether Trump would agree to the request. Trump’s representatives and lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For two months after losing his re-election bid to President Joe Biden, Trump loudly argued that he lost due to rampant electoral fraud, claims that were rejected by multiple courts and state election officials.
At the Jan. 6 rally, the former president urged supporters to fight before hundreds of them stormed the Capitol to try to stop the certification of Biden’s victory. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died during the incident.
Trump’s lawyers and most Republican senators have challenged the constitutionality of the trial. They have said the Senate does not have the authority to hear the case because Trump, also a Republican, has already left office and cannot be removed.
Such an argument would allow Republican senators – who hold half the seats in the chamber – to vote against Trump’s conviction on procedural concerns instead of directly supporting his comments.
A total of 17 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats to convict Trump in the trial.
Trump’s lawyers have also denied the former president fomented the violence, saying that his remarks were protected under the U.S. Constitution’s right to free speech.
The impeachment trial of Trump, the first U.S. president to face such a trial twice, is expected to begin next week.
Trump’s first impeachment trial, on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress after he appeared to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, resulted in an acquittal by the Senate, where Republicans held the majority at the time and denied Democrats’ attempts to present witnesses.
(Reporting by Makini Brice and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Susan Heavey and Dan Grebler)
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