Donald Trump named a new impeachment legal team on Sunday night, one day after all five lawyers who had been set to represent him in next week’s Senate trial reportedly left on account of the former president wanting to use his baseless stolen-election claims as part of his defense. Attorneys Bruce Castor and David Schoen will now lead Trump’s defense, spokesperson Jason Miller said in a statement on Sunday. The statement also seemed to signal that Trump’s defense strategy will aim to prove that the impeachment is unconstitutional now that he is out of office.
Castor is a former district attorney and longtime Republican politician in Pennsylvania best known for declining to charge comedian Bill Cosby with sexual assault a decade before the accused serial rapist was finally brought to justice. In 2005, when Castor was district attorney in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, he infamously declined to prosecute Cosby after one of his more than 60 accusers, Andrea Constand, alleged that he had sexually assaulted her. Castor cited a lack of evidence for his decision, but had allegedly offered Cosby a secret immunity agreement. Castor’s successor reopened the case in 2015 and was ultimately able to convict Cosby for the crime. Castor later served as solicitor general and acting attorney general of Pennsylvania.
Schoen is a longtime trial lawyer who previously represented Roger Stone during his sentencing and subsequent appeal after the longtime Trump associate was convicted of obstruction, witness tampering, and other felonies committed amid Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. (Trump later commuted Stone’s sentence, then eventually pardoned him before leaving office.) Schoen also met with Jeffrey Epstein days before the notorious sex trafficker and pedophile was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell of an apparent suicide. Schoen later said they came to an agreement during the meeting to add him to Epstein’s legal team, and that he believed Epstein had not died by suicide.
Trump aides and Republican lawmakers have been trying to steer the defense strategy toward arguing the impeachment is unconstitutional. It’s not clear whether or not they have won that argument with the former president. “Both Schoen and Castor agree that this impeachment is unconstitutional,” Sunday’s statement said.
How the defense plays out, whatever it is, with Castor and Schoen now in charge remains to be seen. When Intelligencer’s Olivia Nuzzi asked one of Trump former’s lawyers for their reaction to his new legal team, they responded, “Should be a circus.”
It’s also not clear if more lawyers will be joining Trump’s legal team, or how Trump will pay for any of them. The RNC covered some of the cost for Trump’s first impeachment trial, but it does not appear that they will be footing any of the bill this time around. Trump and the GOP raised more than $255 million between Election Day and January 6, while the president and his many allies contested the election results, though most of the donations came in before the Electoral College voted for Biden in mid-December. Trump left office with tens of millions of dollars in the coffers of his Save America PAC, which the Times reports “he can use to fund a post-presidential political operation, including travel and staffing.”
The circumstances of Trump’s previous legal team’s departure also seemed to suggest Trump himself saw the trial as another opportunity to insist he didn’t lose the election, rather than argue the impeachment was unconstitutional. On Saturday, all five lawyers on Trump’s impeachment-defense legal team parted ways with the former president. According to CNN and the New York Times, the attorneys left after Trump insisted they focus his defense on the baseless stolen-election claims he used to incite the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol (for which he is now being impeached).
One lead lawyer, Butch Bowers, left less than ten days after his hiring was announced. The other, Deborah Barbier, bailed after three. Both were based in South Carolina, as were two former prosecutors on the team, Johnny Gasser and Greg Harris. A North Carolina–based attorney named Josh Howard had also recently joined the effort. But they’re all gone now.
While Trump having a solid legal team and some whiff of a sound defense should theoretically be necessary to secure an acquittal in his impeachment trial, there is next to no chance that enough Republican senators will decide to join the needed two-thirds of the Senate to convict him, regardless of what actually transpires during the trial. Forty-five Senate Republicans voted to dismiss the impeachment last week on the grounds it was unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a president who is no longer in office — despite the fact that former Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell had delayed the start of the trial until after Trump was no longer in office.
Nonetheless, the exodus and sudden replacement of Trump’s legal team demonstrates that the dysfunction, disarray, and misplaced attention that plagued Trump’s single term in office hasn’t ended with his presidency, as the Times’ Maggie Haberman captured in her report on Saturday:
Mr. Trump had pushed for his defense team to focus on his baseless claim that the election was stolen from him, one person familiar with the situation said. A person close to Mr. Trump disputed that that was the case but acknowledged that there were differences in opinion about the defense strategy. However, Mr. Trump has insisted that the case is “simple” and has told advisers he could argue it himself and save the money on lawyers. (Aides contend he is not seriously contemplating doing so.)
The decision for Mr. Bowers to leave was “mutual,” another person familiar with the situation said, adding that Mr. Trump and Mr. Bowers had no chemistry, a quality the former president generally prizes in his relationships. Mr. Trump prefers lawyers who are eager to appear on television to say that he never did anything wrong; Mr. Bowers has been noticeably absent in the news media since his hiring was announced.
CNN adds that Trump “wanted the attorneys to argue there was mass election fraud and that the election was stolen from him rather than focus on the legality of convicting a president after he’s left office. Trump was not receptive to the discussions about how they should proceed in that regard.” None of the attorneys, who had been linked up with Trump via his longtime ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, had yet been paid or signed a letter of intent, CNN reports.
Trump has reportedly struggled to find lawyers willing to defend him in the impeachment trial. Longtime Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani — who spearheaded the Trump team’s futile post-election legal campaign to overturn President Biden’s victory, is facing a $1.3 billion lawsuit over false claims he made about Dominion Voting Systems amid that effort, and has argued that proving the stolen-election lie would exonerate the president — is apparently not going to be involved. The lawyers who defended Trump in his first impeachment trial won’t be either.
Meanwhile, Democrats have revealed their own strategy for the trial, even if the effort will just be making a case for the public and the history books, rather than immovable Senate Republicans. House impeachment managers plan to present both new video footage and eye-witness testimony from the Capitol riot, as the Washington Post reported on Friday:
The goal is to present the Senate with fresh evidence that reveals what Trump knew in advance of the Jan. 6 rampage at the Capitol, as well as how his words and actions influenced those who participated. The rioting left five dead, including one member of the U.S. Capitol Police. In addition, two officers, one with the D.C. Police Department, have since died by suicide.
The effort to present new video evidence and witness testimony appears designed to make Republican senators as uncomfortable as possible as they prepare to vote to acquit Trump, as most have indicated they will do. The prospect of injured police officers describing the brutality of pro-Trump rioters to Republicans who regularly present themselves as advocates of law enforcement could make for an extraordinary, nationally televised scene.
How much evidence House managers will be allowed to present is not entirely clear, as there has been resistance to a lengthy trial among senators on both sides of the aisle, but Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer seemed to back the House plan in an MSNBC interview this weekend.
This post has been updated throughout to include additional reporting.