Impeachment Briefing: Team Trump

Impeachment Briefing: Team Trump

This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every weeknight.

  • President Trump’s impeachment team is taking final shape. He tapped the former independent counsel Ken Starr, the celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz and several other prominent attorneys to join the group, which will be led by Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Jay Sekulow, one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers.

  • Mr. Trump initially wanted some of his favorite House Republicans, such as Jim Jordan, to be on the defense team, but Senator Mitch McConnell rejected the idea. Other advisers to Mr. Trump also expressed concerns about having members of the House involved.

Mr. Trump’s defense team will be a collection of some of his favorite television personalities, several of his personal lawyers and the top White House lawyer. Here’s a look at who they are.

Pat Cipollone: As White House counsel, Mr. Cipollone has been the legal brain behind Mr. Trump’s responses to the impeachment battle. In October he signed a blistering eight-page letter to top House Democrats arguing against cooperating with the impeachment inquiry. Viewed as a calmer version of his predecessor, Don McGahn, he is said to be more temperamentally agreeable to the president. [Read more.]

Jay Sekulow: A frequent presence on Fox News and on Christian television, Mr. Sekulow is one of Mr. Trump’s longest-serving personal lawyers, and he coordinates a group of attorneys from a cooperative working space a few blocks from the White House. Mr. Sekulow also defended the president in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. [Read more.]

Ken Starr: Mr. Starr was a household name in the ’90s, after he led the investigation into President Bill Clinton that resulted in his impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice. He and the president haven’t always been close: Mr. Trump told interviewers in 1999 that Mr. Starr was a “wacko” and a “lunatic.” But recently the president is said to have enjoyed watching him on television, where Mr. Starr has frequently defended and praised him. [Read more.]

Robert Ray: Mr. Ray succeeded Mr. Starr as the independent counsel on the Clinton case, and reportedly negotiated a final settlement with Mr. Clinton that included a fine and law license suspension, according to people briefed on the plan. He has lately been a constant on Fox News, arguing that there was not enough evidence to convict Mr. Trump of a crime. [Read more.]

Alan Dershowitz: Yes, that Alan Dershowitz. The longtime defense lawyer, cable news staple and professor emeritus at Harvard prides himself on being a contrarian who isn’t afraid to defend the seemingly indefensible: His past clients include O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson and Jeffrey Epstein. [Read more.]

Pam Bondi: A lawyer and lobbyist, Ms. Bondi has been working at the White House as a spokeswoman on impeachment issues. She and the president have a controversial past: The now-dissolved Trump Foundation once donated $25,000 to a group supporting Ms. Bondi when she was Florida’s attorney general, potentially in order to sway her office’s review of fraud allegations against Trump University.

Jane Raskin: Ms. Raskin, a Florida-based lawyer, worked behind the scenes to defend Mr. Trump during the Mueller investigation. Since then, as the impeachment inquiry has taken shape, she has quietly advised Mr. Sekulow, according to people familiar with the discussions. [Read more.]

Mr. Trump chose names familiar to cable news viewers, but his decision still surprised political observers. What is the president thinking in organizing this team? I asked my colleagues Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, who wrote today about the defense team.

Peter, Ken Starr! What is this move about?

PETER: Two words: Fox News. He sees Ken Starr defending him on TV. He also thinks, here’s a guy whose investigation led to the impeachment of the last president but thinks this impeachment is illegitimate. In Mr. Trump’s mind, who would have better credibility than him?

Do the two have a relationship?

PETER: Mr. Starr is not close to Mr. Trump in any way. He’s very different from Mr. Trump. And here’s the interesting thing: There are a lot of things in Mr. Trump that he didn’t like in Mr. Clinton — this raffish, undisciplined, morally suspect figure who in his view disgraced the Oval Office. Mr. Trump in some ways would touch off some of the same concerns, given his history with women and marriage and honesty.

Do you think there’s any power in the symmetry of Mr. Starr going up against Democrats then and now?

PETER: What his hiring reinforces is how so many people have simply flipped sides, depending on which political party is in which position, whether it be the Democrats who decried the witch hunt against their president 20 years ago and today talk very soberly about the rule of law, or the Republicans who 20 years ago talked about the rule of law and today talk about witch hunts.

Maggie, how much of this is about television?

MAGGIE: That’s a big part of it. He wants people he thinks are going to fight and be aggressive and “perform” well in a TV context. He wants them to look commanding. He wants people who he thinks can notch political victories, even if they’re incremental.

How much is Mr. Trump himself organizing this effort?

MAGGIE: I think Mr. Sekulow and Mr. Cipollone are the ones thinking about what roles people actually play. And they’re thinking about this in a pretty comprehensive way — for example, Mr. Dershowitz is coming in for a pretty narrow part, and just for next week. But they’re in consultation with Mr. Trump on these choices. He’s very involved in all of this.

  • Twenty-one years ago, Capitol Hill carpenters designed a pair of curved tables to serve as work space during the Clinton impeachment trial. Those tables are being dusted off and moved to the Senate floor. Read more about the Senate’s makeover, which features cubbies for senators’ phones and an office for Chief Justice John Roberts.

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that he “never heard” that Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, might have been under surveillance before she was recalled to Washington. He also said that he had “never met” Lev Parnas, the associate of Rudy Giuliani.

  • “We’ll take pictures behind the Resolute Desk,” Mr. Trump told the Louisiana State University football team at the White House when he celebrated their recent national championship. “It’s been there a long time. A lot of presidents. Some good, some not so good. But you’ve got a good one now, even though they’re trying to impeach the son of a bitch. Can you believe that? Can you believe that?”

  • A certain former impeachment figure had thoughts about Mr. Trump’s legal team.


The Impeachment Briefing is also available as a newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every weeknight.


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