WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Thursday asked Donald Trump to testify under oath for his Senate impeachment 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.
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 never testifies, the request nonetheless makes clear Democrats’ determination to present an aggressive case against him even though he has left the White House.
A Trump adviser did not immediately return a message seeking comment about the managers’ letter.
The Senate impeachment trial starts Feb. 9. Trump is charged with inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6, 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, Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, one of the impeachment managers, asked that Trump provide testimony about his conduct “either before or during the Senate impeachment trial,” and under cross-examination, as early as Monday, Feb. 8, and not later than Thursday, Feb. 11.
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.
If Trump refuses to appear, Raskin said 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 now-President Joe Biden.
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, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., 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.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s closest GOP allies, said he thinks the letter is a “political ploy” and notes that Democrats didn’t invite or subpoena him to testify before the House voted to impeach him on Jan. 13.
Asked if he thinks Trump will testify, Graham said it would be a “bad idea.”
“I don’t think that would be in anybody’s interest,” he said.
Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.