In his first impeachment trial, former President Donald Trump drew on the White House’s cadre of lawyers and some of the biggest names in conservative legal circles to defend him. This time around, things are different. And if the first legal brief his hastily assembled team filed is any indicator, this is not going to be a smooth ride for Trump.
I’ll admit that I was worried about getting through Trump’s defense brief in time to write this column. After all, last year’s initial defense filing was an exacting, professional work, spanning 171 pages with dense appendixes. I needn’t have been concerned. Trump’s current defense is 14 pages of circuitous logic and rambling paeans to America. It also misspells “United States” on the first page.
After the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol that he set into motion, Trump struggled to find lawyers willing to take his case. Former White House counsel Pat Cipollone was a hard pass after months of wrangling with Trump’s conspiracy-minded allies over the election results. Jay Sekulow, who was the lead outside counsel during last year’s trial, was also a no. Rudy Giuliani reportedly wanted the gig, but thankfully that trial balloon was popped fast.
Then, last week, after a set of lawyers was finally nailed down, they all abruptly resigned. Rather than focus on the argument that Senate Republicans have latched onto — that the trial is moot because Trump is no longer in office — the former president wanted them to argue that he really did win the election.
On Sunday, just a week ahead of his trial and less than two days before the first legal briefs were due, Trump managed to find two legal eagles to represent him: David Schoen and Bruce Castor. Neither of them is going to be winning awards from the American Bar Association (or the Federalist Society, for that matter) any time soon.
Schoen, who Trump’s office says was already working with the former president, was already a member of Trumpworld thanks to his work defending GOP operative Roger Stone in court. Stone, you may recall, lied to the FBI and may have served as a link between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks in 2016. (His conviction was overturned with a presidential pardon in December.)
Schoen also once penned an op-ed rejecting the Mueller report’s findings before they were released. (I’ve read the whole thing several times and have yet to come away with anything besides vague accusations of political bias.)
Trump’s current defense is 14 pages of circuitous logic and rambling paeans to America. It also misspells “United States” on the first page.
Castor, meanwhile, is a former district attorney from Pennsylvania best known for his decision not to prosecute Bill Cosby in 2005. His fellow Pennsylvanians found the decision confusing, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, as he hadn’t really been in Trump’s orbit. But like Trump, “Castor — known for his confident swagger around Montgomery County courthouse in his trademark pinstripe suits and cowboy boots — has a penchant for the flamboyant side of politics and what makes good TV.”
Trump’s new defense argument, ironically enough, boils down to exactly what his last team wanted to argue. At five separate points the brief insists that “the current proceeding before the Senate is void ab initio as a legal nullity patently contrary to the plain language of the Constitution” because Trump is no longer in office.
It’s a perfectly valid defense, though in my and many other people’s opinions an incorrect one. Just last week, 45 Republican senators voted to debate the constitutionality of the trial with an aim to dismiss it.