GOP senators ‘perplexed’ by ‘unfocused’ and ‘weaker’ Trump legal defense
A number of Republican senators said they were “stunned” and “perplexed” by former President Trump’s legal team Tuesday, criticizing the two attorneys for lacking focus and making “weaker” arguments than the House impeachment managers on the first day of Trump’s impeachment trial.
“Anyone who listened to those arguments would recognize that the House managers were focused, relied upon and trusted upon the opinion of legal scholars,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (La.) after joining with five other Republican senators in voting that the trial was constitutional and should proceed.
“Anyone who listened to President Trump’s legal team saw they were unfocused, they attempted to avoid the issue and they talked about everything but the issue at hand,” he added.
Cassidy’s vote on Tuesday was a surprise after he voted last month in favor of a motion by Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) declaring the trial unconstitutional.
Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), another Republican who voted with Democrats to move ahead with the trial, called Trump’s legal case “weaker.”
“I think they had a weaker case to start with, and I don’t think it was very persuasive,” he said.
Toomey, by contrast, praised Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and the other House impeachment managers.
“The House impeachment managers made very strong arguments. It was persuasive and well grounded in the Constitution and precedent,” he said.
Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), a key Republican swing vote, said she was perplexed by Bruce Castor’s folksy presentation, in which he called out a few lawmakers, including Toomey and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), by name.
“I was perplexed by the first attorney, who did not seem to make any arguments at all, which was an unusual approach to take,” she said, adding that it was “inappropriate” to mention Sasse and Toomey by name.
Castor opened Trump’s defense by denouncing the rioters and praising the emotional testimony from the House impeachment managers, who showed a powerful video that sought to tie Trump’s speech directly to the violence that consumed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Trump’s attorney at various points spoke broadly about the fall of ancient governments, the importance of liberty and his admiration for the senators seeking to impeach Trump.
In one odd instance, Castor admitted that “we changed what we were going to do on account that we thought the House managers’ presentation was well done.”
He also acknowledged he didn’t feel entirely comfortable speaking to senators.
“I worked in this building 40 years ago. I got lost then, and I still do,” he said.
After a long windup, Castor got into the meat of his argument that the impeachment was a political effort designed to keep Trump from ever running for office again.
However, even here, Castor’s arguments were criticized as meandering and unfocused.
“There is no argument. I have no idea what he’s doing. I have no idea why he’s saying what he’s saying,” Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who defended Trump throughout his term in office, said on Newsmax.
“After all kinds of very strong presentations on the part of the House managers with the video tapes and the emotional speech by Congressman Raskin, my former student … you get up there and you respond,” he added. “Maybe he’ll bring it home, but right now, it does not appear to me to be effective advocacy.”
Castor has had a peripatetic career, serving as attorney general and solicitor general of Pennsylvania in 2016 and district attorney of Montgomery, Pa., from 2000 to 2008. He has worked for three different law firms over the past 13 years and handled cases ranging from personal injury to sexual harassment.
Trump’s second attorney, David Schoen, received far higher marks from Republicans for his defense.
Schoen pointedly argued that the impeachment was political, that the Senate has no jurisdiction over a former president and that Trump had been deprived of due process by the House’s swift impeachment process.
He also has a varied legal career, working on public interest cases related to prison violence, foster care and the Ku Klux Klan as well as criminal defense cases.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, voted that continuing with the trial was not constitutional but nonetheless had a particularly harsh assessment of Castor.
“I thought the president’s lawyer the first lawyer just rambled on and on and on and didn’t really address the constitutional argument,” he said.
“Finally, the second lawyer got around to it and I thought did an effective job, but I’ve seen a lot of lawyers and a lot of arguments, and that was not one of the finest I’ve seen,” he added.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another member of the Judiciary Committee, also criticized Trump’s legal team.
“I don’t think the lawyers did the most effective job,” he said while praising Raskin as “impressive.”
Drawing an implicit contrast with Trump’s legal team, Cruz called the lead impeachment manager “a serious lawyer.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies and a senior member of the Judiciary panel, said, “I think the president’s defense was OK.”
“They took a long time to get to where I think the meat of the question is,” he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is seen as a possible vote to convict the president, said she was “stunned” by Castor’s opening presentation.
“I was really stunned at the first attorney who presented for former President Trump. I couldn’t figure out where he was going,” she said. “I don’t think he helped with us better understanding where he was coming from on the constitutionality of this.”
Updated at 6:46 p.m.