Trump assembles legal defense team
Starr, Dershowitz previously involved in high-profile cases
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has assembled a made-for-TV legal team for his Senate trial that includes household names like Ken Starr, the prosecutor whose investigation two decades ago resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said he will deliver constitutional arguments meant to shield Trump from allegations that he abused his power.
The additions Friday bring experience in the politics of impeachment as well as constitutional law to the team, which faced a busy weekend of deadlines for legal briefs before opening arguments begin Tuesday even as more evidence rolled in.
The two new Trump attorneys are already nationally known both for their involvement in some of the more consequential legal dramas of recent American history and for their regular appearances on Fox News, the president’s preferred television network.
Dershowitz is a constitutional expert whose expansive views of presidential powers echo those of Trump. Starr is a veteran of partisan battles in Washington, having led the investigation into Clinton’s affair with a White House intern that brought about the president’s impeachment by the House. Clinton was acquitted at his Senate trial, the same outcome Trump is expecting from the Republican-led chamber.
Still, the lead roles for Trump’s defense will be played by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, who also represented Trump during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Democrats released more documents late Friday from Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, with photos, text and audio, as they make their case against the president over his actions toward Ukraine.
There are some signs of tension involving the president’s outside legal team and lawyers within the White House.
The White House would not confirm the fuller roster of the president’s lawyers Friday, and some officials there bristled that the announcement was not coordinated with them.
Hours after Dershowitz announced his involvement with the team in a series of tweets Friday, he played down his role by saying he would be present for only an hour or so to make constitutional arguments.
“I’m not a full-fledged member of the defense team,” he told “The Dan Abrams Show” on SiriusXM. He has long been a critic of “the overuse of impeachment,” he said, and would have made the same case for a President Hillary Clinton.
A legal brief laying out the contours of the Trump defense, due at noon Monday, was still being drafted, with White House attorneys and the outside legal team grappling over how political the document should be. Those inside the administration have echoed warnings from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the pleadings must be sensitive to the Senate’s more staid traditions and leave the sharper rhetoric to Twitter and cable news.
White House lawyers were successful in keeping Trump from adding House Republicans to the team, but they also advised him against tapping Dershowitz, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions. They’re concerned because of the professor’s association with Jeffrey Epstein, the millionaire who killed himself in jail last summer while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
A Fox News host said on the air that Starr would be parting ways with the network as a result of his role on the legal team.
Other members of Trump’s legal defense include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general; Jane Raskin, who was part of the president’s legal team during Mueller’s investigation; and Robert Ray, who was part of the Whitewater investigation of the Clintons.
Giuliani told The Associated Press that the president has assembled a “top-notch” defense team and he was not disappointed not to be included.
Giuliani, who many in the White House blame for leading Trump down the path to impeachment by fueling Ukraine conspiracies, had previously expressed interest in being on the legal team. But he said Friday his focus would be on being a potential witness, though there is no certainty that he would be called.
“I will be getting ready to testify,” he said.
Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress, stemming from his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rivals as he was withholding security aid, and his efforts to block the ensuing congressional probe.
Senators were sworn in as jurors Thursday by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The president insists he did nothing wrong, and he complains about his treatment daily, sometimes distracting from unrelated events. On Friday, as Trump welcomed the championship Louisiana State University football team to the Oval Office for photos, he said the space had seen “a lot of presidents, some good, some not so good. But you got a good one now, even though they’re trying to impeach the son of a bitch. Can you believe that?”
While the president speaks dismissively of the case, new revelations are mounting about his actions toward Ukraine.
The Government Accountability Office said Thursday that the White House violated federal law in withholding the security assistance to Ukraine, which shares a border with hostile Russia.
Democrats deep into their own preparations released more information from the trove Parnas has turned over to prosecutors linking the president to the shadow foreign policy being run by Giuliani.