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Trump will not testify or provide any statement at impeachment trial, lawyer says

President Joe Biden plans to proceed as if the impeachment trial is not taking place, according to White House officials.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump listens to a question from a reporter as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn, on Aug. 17, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP file

Former President Donald Trump will not testify in his impeachment trial in the Senate next week and will not submit a written statement, his attorney said Thursday after Democrats requested he appear.

A written statement was something that had been under consideration by Trump's former legal team.

Lead impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., earlier Thursday requested that Trump testify under oath.

Bruce Castor, who is part of the team representing Trump in his impeachment trial, said “no” when asked by NBC News if Trump would testify. "It’s a publicity stunt in order to make up for the weakness of the House managers’ case," Castor said

Raskin responded that any official accused of inciting violence against the government should welcome the chance to testify. "His immediate refusal to testify speaks volumes and plainly establishes an adverse inference supporting his guilt," Raskin said.

Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives on Jan. 13 on an article charging him with "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the violent riot by a pro-Trump mob at the U.S. Capitol earlier that month.

Image: Bruce Castor
Bruce Castor heads back into courtroom A after a break in a pre-trail hearing for entertainer Bill Cosby, in Norristown, Pa., on Feb. 2, 2016.Clem Murray / Pool/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP file

The crux of Trump’s defense will focus on the argument that impeaching him after he’s left office is unconstitutional — something that is in dispute.

"If you take the House's position to its logical conclusion, they could impeach Donald Trump and convict him if he was dead,” Castor said. “And that would be a ridiculous result. They could impeach Abraham Lincoln."

Democratic House impeachment managers say Trump's actions warrant his disqualification from federal office. They also argue that nothing in the Constitution says only current officials can be tried.

They wrote in a brief that the Constitution "clearly intended for the impeachment process to reach former officials," adding that the Senate found it had the power to try former officials as far back as 1798, in the case of former Sen. William Blount.

In 1876, Congress impeached and then tried Ulysses S. Grant's secretary of war — William Belknap — who had resigned after he discovered he was about to be impeached. He was tried anyway, but was acquitted after the Senate reached a majority but failed to reach the two-thirds threshold needed.

Trump's impeachment is the first time a president has been impeached twice. The Senate trial is expected to begin Tuesday.

Earlier this week, attorneys for Trump filed briefs in the impeachment proceedings that called the trial partisan and unconstitutional. His lawyers have urged a quick dismissal.

On Thursday Raskin had requested that Trump testify at the trial. “In light of your disputing these factual allegations, I write to invite you to provide testimony under oath,” Raskin wrote in a letter to Trump.

Raskin in his letter noted that former Presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton “both provided testimony while in office” and cited a 2020 Supreme Court ruling that found that a president is not immune from criminal prosecution.

“So there is no doubt that you can testify in these proceedings,” Raskin wrote.

The impeachment article charges Trump with "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the violent riot by a pro-Trump mob in the U.S. Capitol that left several people dead and terrorized lawmakers as they sought to affirm President Joe Biden's victory.

The article also cites Trump's Jan. 2 phone call urging Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to overturn the state's election results as part of his effort "to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 presidential election."

The Democratic-controlled House approved the article on a 232-197 vote; 10 Republicans sided against Trump. It was the most bipartisan vote on a presidential impeachment in history, doubling the five Democrats who voted to impeach Clinton in 1998.

Castor said that Trump's claims of voter fraud — which have never been substantiated and have been called baseless — won't be part of the defense.

“We are not planning on going down that road, and I don't see any reason to,” he said. “As far as I can tell the case is a winner. And I'm not going to inject the problem into the case. That’s injecting a problem into the case.”

And Biden's plans during the impeachment trial are to proceed with their work as if it’s not taking place, according to White House officials.

Aides are crafting a busy schedule for the president focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the economy, and meetings with state and local officials — all aimed at showing he’s on the job and undistracted by the impeachment of his predecessor, officials said.

One official said that from the White House's perspective, the impeachment trial can't end — and Congress can't move on — soon enough.

The request for Trump to testify in the Senate trial was met with some consternation. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said it would be a “dog and pony show,” and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a close ally of Biden's, called it “a terrible idea."

Asked why it would be a terrible idea, Coons responded by asking, "Have you met President Trump?"

Castor, a former district attorney in Pennsylvania, said that he expects the trial to end either Friday or Sunday.

Castor noted the other lawyer on Trump’s legal team, David Schoen, cannot work on Saturday because of his Jewish faith.

The Senate impeachment rules dictate that the trial goes from Monday to Saturday, with no trial on Sundays. Changing that would need to be done through an agreement amongst Senators, who are able to change anything about the trial with all 100 senators in agreement.

Castor said Schoen will make the opening argument on behalf of the former president, while a yet-to-be-named lawyer will likely handle the middle portion of the trial, and Castor expects to deliver the team’s closing argument.

Asked if there will be any surprises in the trial, Castor said: “It will be exciting.”