Bruce Castor, the attorney who opened up President Trump’s legal defense against his second impeachment trial, gave the Washington Post an eerily accurate preview of his style beforehand. “I’m not Ken Starr or Alan Dershowitz. You’re not going to get a law professor’s explanation,” Castor said. “I’m a guy who gets up in court and talks.”
Promise made, promise kept. Castor’s argument was not a “law professor’s explanation.” It was not, in fact, an explanation of any kind. He was a guy who talked.
What did Castor talk about? Castor addressed arguments by the House managers to the effect that impeachment was clearly intended to allow for the prosecution of former officials. The House managers cited precedent from English common law, which is an utterly standard method for determining the intent of the Founders (for whom English common law was a common point of reference). Castor, astonishingly, warned that citing English common law would create a “precedent” that would somehow lead the United States to have a king and a parliament.
When he was not displaying a shocking ignorance of foundational legal concepts, he was using his time to discuss things that had nothing to do with either the law or this case. Castor extensively praised the intelligence of senators, explaining that every last one is a patriot and also a sincere believer that their own state is the best state. He further singled out Nebraska for its legal acumen, saying, “Nebraska is quite a judicial thinking place.” Castor did not provide any context for this statement.
He warned that impeaching Trump would open “floodgates” of abusive impeachments, then diverted to a detailed “behind the scenes” explanation of his decision to use the floodgate metaphor rather than the metaphor of a whirlwind, his original choice.
Castor’s discursive rambling was so apparent that both he and Trump’s legal advisers were forced to explain his haplessness while Castor’s speech was still going on. “I’ll be quite frank with you,” Castor confessed. “We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the House managers’ presentation was well done.”
“We have counterarguments to everything they say,” he promised. “And we will bring them later on.” That was a folksy touch. Perhaps Castor was thinking of lawyers in television shows telling the jury that they’re just regular folks and not some fancy big-city attorney. But you don’t want to take the humble, cornpone shtick so far you are admitting you failed to actually engage the case at all.
A Trump adviser told Maggie Haberman that Castor was “intentionally trying to reduce the emotion in the room after the House managers’ case,” as what the adviser called a “deliberative strategy.” The strategy was to follow a compelling and damning indictment depicting the president inciting a deadly mob in an effort to cancel the election and to lull the Senate back to sleep.
Republican Senators – i.e., the jurors castor was attempting to persuade – sounded unimpressed. Sen. Bill Cassidy called the performance “disorganized” and noted it was “almost like they were embarrassed” of their arguments. “The president’s lawyer just rambled on and on… I’ve seen a lot of lawyers and a lot of arguments and that was not one of the finest I’ve seen,” said the normally reliable partisan Republican John Cornyn. Susan Collins put it drily, “It did not seem to make any arguments at all, which was an unusual approach to take.”
Even Dershowitz told Newsmax that Castor was blathering pointlessly:
Trump, watching from Florida, was reportedly enraged to the point of nearly “screaming.”
The sad thing is that Republicans have decided that they won’t convict Trump, because their base loves him and thinks he was right to try to steal the election. Castor probably knew he could waste an hour saying nothing pertinent to Trump’s defense and still win the case. Maybe he was cleverly trying to prove the emptiness of Trump’s defense and the moral bankruptcy of his defenders.
Or maybe he was just what he said: a guy who gets up in court and talks.
This post has been updated.