WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has tapped two of his longtime lawyers to lead his impeachment defense team in next week’s Senate trial – White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and private attorney Jay Sekulow – and added other well-known attorneys who have often defended him on television.
The latter group includes Alan Dershowitz, a noted Harvard law professor; Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who prosecuted the President Bill Clinton impeachment case, and Robert Ray, who replaced Starr as independent counsel and wrapped up the investigation of Clinton.
An official confirmed the planned appointments, speaking on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement is expected later Friday.
The Senate trial is expected to open Tuesday on two articles of impeachment passed by the House on Dec. 18: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The allegations stem from Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate U.S. political rivals, including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had business interests in the country.
Impeachment investigators also said Trump held up military aid to Ukraine as well as a White House meeting until it complied with the request to investigate Biden and others. In addition, House Democrats alleged the White House’s refusal to give testimony and documents illegally obstructed Congress’ investigation.
Here’s a look at the lawyers who will be defending Trump:
Dershowitz has been criticized for his representation of Jeffrey Epstein, a financier and convicted sex offender who committed suicide in jail in August. He worked on the 2008 plea deal in which Epstein pleaded guilty to state prostitution charges for roughly a year in a county jail.
The professor emeritus at Harvard Law School has had a slew of celebrity clients over the decades, including Claus von Bülow, O.J. Simpson, and Mike Tyson.
Regarding Trump, Dershowitz issued a statement on Twitter on Friday saying he will “present oral arguments at the Senate trial to address the constitutional arguments against impeachment and removal.”
Dershowitz also said that he is “non partisan” on this issue, and noted that he opposed Clinton’s impeachment. He said he wants to defend Trump because he “believes the issues at stake go to the heart of our enduring Constitution” and wants “to prevent the creation of a dangerous constitutional precedent.”
Starr served as solicitor general and was considered a Supreme Court candidate during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. He was appointed independent counsel in 1994 to investigate Clinton over the Whitewater land deal as well as other matters.
Opponents criticized the way Starr handled the investigation of Clinton and his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, saying he turned a private matter into a public prosecution – a group that included then-New York City businessman Donald Trump.
“I think Ken Starr’s a lunatic,” Trump said in a 1999 interview. “I really think that Ken Starr is a disaster.”
Trump has been more complimentary of Starr in recent years, especially his criticisms of the House impeachment case.
Critics also said that Starr lost his job as president of Baylor University because of the way the school handled sexual assault allegations against members of the football team.
After replacing Starr as independent counsel, Ray completed a final report on the Whitewater investigation – and also negotiated an agreement with Clinton to avoid a possible perjury prosecution after he left office in early 2001.
In exchange, Clinton agreed to give up his law license for 5 years, pay a fine of $25,000 to cover lawyers’ fees, and acknowledge wrongdoing in his testimony on his relationship with Lewinsky.
More recently, Ray has appeared on Fox News to denounce impeachment as “partisan.”
Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow
The leaders of Trump’s legal team are attorneys he has worked with on previous matters, including the House impeachment investigation.
In his role as the White House’s top lawyer, Cipollone made the legal arguments to support the administration’s refusal to participate in the House impeachment inquiry.
Cipollone also worked to block administration officials from testifying before the House or providing documents to impeachment investigators, arguing that Congress is not entitled to information about internal deliberations within the executive branch – an argument he may continue to make during the Senate trial.
“This baseless and highly partisan inquiry violates all past historical precedent, basic due process rights, and fundamental fairness,” Cipollone said in a letter to the House saying the White House would not participate in the impeachment inquiry.
House Democrats protested what they called White House stonewalling, and made it part of an impeachment article accusing Trump of obstruction of Congress.
Sekulow, meanwhile, represented Trump during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Before his work with Trump, Sekulow was best known as a Supreme Court litigator who specialized in religious liberty cases. He is also a frequent guest on television news programs and hosts a daily radio talk show.
Trump’s legal team also includes Cipollone’s two top deputies, Patrick F. Philbin and Michael M. Purpura, as well as attorney Jane Raskin, who worked for Trump during the Mueller investigation.
Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, who has been working with the White House during the impeachment trial, will play a similar role on the impeachment legal time.
Not on the team: Trump private attorney Rudy Giuliani.
As someone who has conducted his own investigation of Ukraine activities, Giuliani said he is a potential witness in the impeachment trial because “I possess facts,”
“I don’t think I’ll be called, but I will be ready in case,” Giuliani said in a text message exchange with USA TODAY.
Giuliani described the president’s legal team as “excellent,” and said they are “all friends and great lawyers with a great case.”
Others could be added to Trump’s team later, including some House Republicans who participated in the impeachment inquiry.
Preparing a defense
The attorneys are already busy preparing a legal brief defending Trump against the impeachment charges. It is due to be submitted to the Senate by noon on Monday.
The trial itself is set to begin Tuesday, though Trump himself is scheduled to watch his legal team’s work from afar: He plans to be at an international economic conference in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday and Wednesday.
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The president’s lawyers are expected to mount an aggressive defense.
Trump and aides said he did not improperly pressure Ukraine, and that he only wanted the nation to address problems with corruption. Concern about corruption is the reason the administration gave for holding up military aid to the nation that was finally released in September.
Trump’s legal team will likely be involved in Senate arguments about whether to call witnesses in the trial.
Senate Democrats have said they will push for witnesses to talk about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Their list includes former National Security Adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Trump and his attorneys are likely to oppose any testimony from a current employee like Mulvaney, saying his conversations with the president are subject to executive privilege.
At the same time, the president and aides have said that if the Senate compels prosecution witnesses, they will seek to call witnesses of their own. They include Hunter Biden and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., one of the leaders of the impeachment inquiry in the House.
Trump himself suggested he may want to invoke executive privilege in the case of Bolton because his testimony would deal with matters discussed when he was in the White House.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson