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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Article of impeachment against former president Trump delivered to Senate

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By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump faces a deadline on Tuesday to respond to the U.S. House of Representatives’ impeachment charging him with inciting insurrection in a fiery speech to supporters before last month’s deadly assault on the Capitol.

The deadline comes just days after Trump parted ways with his initial legal team amid a reported dispute over how to respond to the charge. Trump is still contending, contrary to evidence, that his election loss to Democratic President Joe Biden was the result of widespread fraud.

The rampage by Trump followers was intended to stop the Senate from certifying Biden’s Nov. 3 election win.

Republican Senator John Cornyn – one of the 100 members of the Senate who will serve as jurors in Trump’s second impeachment trial – said that argument would be “really not material” to the charge that Trump’s remarks urging supporters to “fight” on Jan. 6 led to the attack on the Capitol that left five dead.

“I think it would be a disservice to the president’s own defense to get bogged down in things that really aren’t before the Senate,” Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court judge, told reporters on Monday.

One of Trump’s recently hired lawyers, David Schoen, called the process “completely unconstitutional” in an interview with Fox News on Monday but did not outline the former president’s legal strategy.

“I think it’s also the most ill-advised legislative action that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Schoen said. “It is tearing the country apart at a time when we don’t need anything like that.”

In addition to Trump’s deadline, the nine House Democrats serving as impeachment managers – essentially the prosecutors of the case – need to file their initial briefs on Tuesday, ahead of the trial getting started next week.

Convicting Trump, who is just the third U.S. president to be impeached and the first to face trial after leaving office, would require a two-thirds vote, meaning that 17 Republicans would need to join the Senate’s 50 Democrats in voting to convict. That presents a daunting hurdle for Democrats.

The impeachment managers could disclose on Tuesday whom they plan to call as witnesses, a list expected to be brief as the leaders of both parties have expressed a desire to keep the trial short to allow them to return to legislative business.

Trump’s first impeachment trial, on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress arising from his phone call urging Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, ended last year in acquittal by the then Republican-controlled Senate .

BEING HELD ‘TO ACCOUNT’

Forty-five Senate Republicans voted last week in support of a measure declaring the impeachment trial unconstitutional since it is occurring after Trump has left office. A conviction could lead to a second vote banning Trump from running for office again.

A group of Republican former officials rebutted the argument that the trial was unconstitutional in an open letter released on Tuesday.

It is “essential to focus the nation on the gravity of what Mr. Trump did,” the group argued in a statement seen by Reuters.

The three dozen former officials signing the letter include former Governors Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and William Weld of Massachusetts and Carter Phillips, a veteran Washington litigator and assistant solicitor general in the Reagan administration.

“It will be a permanent stain on the history of the Republican Party and the legacy of its members in the U.S. Senate if they fail to find a way to hold a president of their party to account for this unprecedented mayhem at our Nation’s Capitol,” the group wrote.

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