President Donald Trump turned to some legal heavyweights to help defend him in his Senate impeachment trial with the addition on Friday of former independent counsel Ken Starr, who he once called a ‘lunatic’ and prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
Starr was the one who paved the way for former President Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment.
Trump’s legal team will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump private attorney Jay Sekulow.
Trump adviser and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and former independent counsel Robert Ray will also be on the team, according to the source familiar with the team’s composition.
The trial formally got underway on Thursday, though it will start in earnest on Tuesday with opening statements. The trial in the Republican-led Senate will determine whether Trump is removed from office.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on two charges arising from his dealings with Ukraine – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – on Dec. 18 after an investigation that centred on his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, the president’s possible Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 election.
The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, as none of its 53 Republicans has voiced support for removing him, a step that requires a two-thirds majority. Trump has denied wrongdoing and has called the impeachment process a sham.
Starr is a former federal judge who held a senior Justice Department post under Republican President George H.W. Bush. Starr’s voluminous investigative report on Clinton’s sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky served as the basis for his impeachment in the House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The Senate in 1999 acquitted Clinton, a Democrat. Starr had recommended impeachment on 11 grounds.
In 2016, Starr was ousted as president of Baylor University, a private Baptist institution in Texas, after an investigation by an outside law firm determined that university leaders had mishandled accusations of sexual assault by football players. Critics of Starr at the time accused him of turning a blind eye to sexual violence on his campus after pursuing Clinton for a sexual relationship.
Both Starr and Dershowitz also served as lawyers for financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in his New York jail cell last year where he was being held on new sex trafficking charges.
In 1999, Trump made unflattering comments about Starr, saying in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show after Clinton’s acquittal: “I think Ken Starr’s a lunatic.” In a 1999 interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Trump said, “Starr’s a freak. I bet he’s got something in his closet.”
Dershowitz has been a well-known figure in U.S. legal circles for decades. He was a long-time Harvard Law School professor and was part of the so-called “Dream Team” of lawyers who won a 1995 acquittal of former National Football League star and actor O.J. Simpson on charges of murdering his wife and a friend of hers. Dershowitz’s past clients also have included boxer Mike Tyson and televangelist Jim Bakker.
Both Starr and Dershowitz were defenders of Trump in media interviews during the impeachment process. Sources working with the Trump legal team said the president wanted Dershowitz because of his background as a constitutional scholar.
A statement provided by Dershowitz from Trump’s legal team said he will present oral arguments at the trial to address the constitutional arguments against impeachment and removal from office.
“While Professor Dershowitz is non partisan when it comes to the constitution – he opposed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and voted for Hillary Clinton – he believes the issues at stake go to the heart of our enduring Constitution,” the statement said.
Ray succeeded Starr as independent counsel during the Clinton investigation. On the day before Clinton left office, Ray announced that he would not criminally prosecute him in connection with perjury and obstruction.
One person who was not added to the team that will defend Trump at the trial is his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who played a key role in the Ukraine matter.
Democrat Adam Schiff heads a team of seven House members who will serve as prosecutors. Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.
Still to be determined is whether the Senate will allow witness testimony and new evidence or whether senators will decide the case as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has suggested using only the material amassed by House investigators.