In rejecting the pleas of excitable House Republicans like Doug Collins and Mike Meadows to join his Senate impeachment trial team, Donald Trump maintained a bare possibility that his defense effort would be somewhat dignified. But if widespread reports are correct, he’s throwing dignity away entirely by adding two notorious characters to his legal beagle squad, Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr (along with Starr’s deputy in the Bill Clinton investigation that led to the 42nd president’s impeachment, Robert Ray).
Dershowitz, who initially made his bones as a liberal-leaning constitutional law professor at Harvard, has more recently become renowned as a celebrity counsel for scoundrels (e.g., O.J. Simpson). He has also become Trump’s favorite legal thinker, and one of the Fox Democrats who trades on his past identity while slavishly following the Republican Party line. He has already conspicuously identified himself with Trump’s fight against impeachment and removal, most notably by advancing the dubious argument that impeachment requires a violation of criminal statutes.
But the 81-year-old retired professor is probably best known right now as an alleged co-conspirator with the late Jeffrey Epstein. As Andrew Rice summed it up last summer:
Of all of the many men on the long list of socialites, billionaires, and politicians associated with Epstein, the shadowy financier with a predilection for underage girls, perhaps no name had been tarnished as seriously as Dershowitz’s. As Epstein’s lawyer, he had helped him to thwart prosecutors; as his houseguest, he was accused of enthusiastically joining in Epstein’s alleged sexual abuse.
His addition to Trump’s team is an indication that almost nothing can outweigh a history of sycophancy toward the boss when it comes to the people with whom he chooses to associate.
But deploying Ken Starr is also a sign of how much Trump’s defense will depend on appealing to ancient partisan passions. Starr, of course, is the conservative attorney who managed to turn a gig as a special prosecutor looking into an Arkansas land deal into a moralistic (yet prurient) inquiry into Bill Clinton’s sex life, all but forcing a failed Republican impeachment effort that had vastly less public support than the one we’re dealing with now. But like Dershowitz, Starr experienced a late-career descent from controversy into squalor, thanks to his complicity in covering up a sexual-assault scandal at Baylor University, as Mimi Schwartz succinctly explained when Starr finally left Baylor in disgrace:
An independent investigation of Baylor found that the university authorities had consistently failed to protect its female students from sexual predators and neglected its Title IX responsibilities. Instead, administrators played down reports of abuse and discouraged women from bringing allegations of misconduct.
And where was President Starr? Ignoring the candlelight vigil for victims of sexual assault that Baylor students held outside his home. Ducking a media interview when the scandal broke. Issuing windy statements laced with legalese to the Baylor community about how much he cared. Refusing to comment on the situation until the external review was done. And releasing only a summary of that report, not the full document, to the public.
Just the guy to enable Donald Trump; never mind the hypocrisy of a man so willing to pick nits to take down Clinton now defending a systematically scofflaw president.
Presumably White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow will do the heavy lifting during the Senate trial. But the presence of Dershowitz and Starr represents a defiantly raised middle finger to propriety, and yet another own-the-libs gesture designed to make the MAGA base chuckle in delight at the mogul’s peerless audacity.