Trump's legal team gets set for impeachment trial

Trump's legal team gets set for impeachment trial
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE’s legal team is gearing up for an impeachment trial that is poised to start next week, promising fireworks at a time Trump and top aides are expected to be out of the country attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his team of lawyers in the counsel’s office, along with the president’s personal attorney Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowNow, we need the election monitors Judge denies Trump's request for a stay on subpoena for tax records Judge throws out Trump effort to block subpoena for tax returns MORE, have been preparing for weeks, including through meetings with Senate leaders on Capitol Hill.

“We’ve been prepared to proceed as early as mid-December,” Sekulow told The Hill. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The White House is keeping quiet about the details of its legal strategy, including whether Trump’s Republican allies in the House will take a role in his defense. That will likely need to be decided by the end of the week. 

Cipollone is expected to take a leading role, with Sekulow playing a key but supporting role. Cipollone will also be assisted by his deputies in the White House counsel’s office, Patrick Philbin and Michael Purpura. 

The White House has mulled adding Alan DershowitzAlan Morton DershowitzDershowitz suing CNN for 0 million in defamation suit Bannon and Maxwell cases display DOJ press strategy chutzpah Ghislaine Maxwell attorneys ask for delay to unseal court documents due to 'critical new information' MORE to the mix, though Dershowitz, a contributor to The Hill, said Monday that he had nothing to report when asked about the possibility. 

The House is slated to vote Wednesday on sending articles of impeachment to the Senate after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAs families deal with coronavirus, new federal dollars should follow the student Sunday shows - Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death dominates Hypocrisy rules on both sides over replacing Justice Ginsburg MORE (D-Calif.) held them to seek leverage on the rules for the trial.

The House voted in December to impeach Trump in an almost completely party-line vote on charges he abused his office by pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll GOP set to release controversial Biden report Can Donald Trump maintain new momentum until this November? MORE, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and a debunked theory about the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack and that he obstructed the congressional inquiry. 

Trump has insisted he did not pressure Ukraine nor did anything improper and accused Democrats of conducting a partisan “witch hunt” meant to damage him ahead of the 2020 election.

The Senate trial’s outcome is not in doubt given the GOP’s majority, though there is some uncertainty on whether witnesses such as former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonDiplomacy with China is good for America The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep DOJ launches probe into Bolton book for possible classified information disclosures MORE will be called. A few GOP senators have signaled an interest in hearing from witnesses. Witnesses would need to be approved by a majority vote in the Senate.

“I am confident that the president’s ability to defend his case the way he wants it to be defended will be protected in the process,” White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland told reporters on Monday.

Trump has also floated calling witnesses like Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTop Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence Overnight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings Overnight Defense: House to vote on military justice bill spurred by Vanessa Guillén death | Biden courts veterans after Trump's military controversies MORE (D-Calif.), as well as Joe and Hunter Biden.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOcasio-Cortez to voters: Tell McConnell 'he is playing with fire' with Ginsburg's seat McConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Video shows NYC subway station renamed after Ruth Bader Ginsburg MORE (R-Ky.) indicated again Tuesday that he wants to avoid calling additional witnesses.

White House allies say it would be a grave political miscalculation for Republican senators to vote to call witnesses sought by Democrats while rejecting appeals for witnesses sought by Trump because it would send a signal of GOP disunity after not a single House Republican voted in favor of impeachment and a handful of Democrats defected.

“If that starts weakening, that could really muck up the messaging. The second we have a circular firing squad, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerRepublican senator says plans to confirm justice before election 'completely consistent with the precedent' Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Graham signals support for confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year MORE are winning,” said one former White House official.

One Trump ally said Tuesday it appeared unlikely that any House members would be added to the defense team. 

Proponents of their involvement argue those lawmakers are intimately familiar with the evidence Democratic managers will present at the trial and possess the charisma to create made-for-TV moments that could bolster the president’s defense.

Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanSunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election House passes resolution condemning anti-Asian discrimination relating to coronavirus Republicans call for Judiciary hearing into unrest in cities run by Democrats MORE (Ohio), John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeOvernight Defense: Top admiral says 'no condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' | Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings FBI chief says Russia is trying to interfere in election to undermine Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump contradicts CDC director on vaccine, masks MORE (Texas) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsVulnerable GOP incumbents embrace filling Supreme Court seat this year Georgia GOP Senate candidates cite abortion in pushing Ginsburg replacement Win by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP MORE (Ga.) are among the Republicans who have been mentioned for Trump’s team.

“Everything will be televised, it will be five or six hours a day, which considerable time of that will be Democratic House impeachment managers attacking President Trump,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign adviser who co-hosts a radio show devoted to defending the president on impeachment.

“There has to be the right mix of specific legal thought and presentation, but there also needs to be strong debaters as part of the president’s defense team,” Miller added. “Ultimately President Trump should have who he feels are his strongest defenders.”

Critics, including a number of Senate Republicans, warn this could create a circus-like atmosphere and detract from the president’s case.

Tony Sayegh, a former spokesman for Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinLawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal United Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid House Democrats plan to unveil bill next week to avert shutdown MORE, and Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, were brought on to assist the White House communications team on impeachment strategy and messaging and have met regularly with congressional staffers. They’ve also been in close consultation with the White House legal team, in addition to appearing on television to defend the president. 

Ultimately, Trump is likely to serve as his own chief spokesman — far from the Senate floor.

The president has grown accustomed to lashing out over impeachment since the Democratic-led House opened an inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine. At times, he’s fired off tweets that have seemed to conflict with one another or cut against messages from the White House or his allies on Capitol Hill. 

Over the weekend, Trump repeated his assertion that Pelosi and Schiff should be called to testify, apparently advocating for a lengthy trial before in the next breath suggesting the Senate dismiss the case altogether. The latter notion was quickly brushed off by Republican senators.

“I don’t really think it’s that much of a problem. It’s really just baked in,” said the former White House official of the president’s tweets. “He’s going to support whatever he thinks is best for him at that moment.” 

The only way Trump’s public comments could have any impact on the proceedings, the person asserted, is if the president begins complaining that Republican senators are not treating him fairly in the trial. 

“That is the only way in which I think there could be problems for Republicans, and those problems would be of Republican senators’ own making,” the former official said.

Jordain Carney and Scott Wong contributed.