President Donald Trump turned to some legal heavyweights to help defend him in his Senate impeachment trial with the addition on Friday of former independent counsel Ken Starr, who paved the way for former President Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment, and prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
The team defending the Republican president will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump private attorney Jay Sekulow, the White House said.
Trump adviser and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and former independent counsel Robert Ray will also be on the team, according to the source familiar with the team’s composition.
The White House also said Jane Raskin, one of Trump’s private lawyers, and Eric Herschmann, another former independent counsel, would be on the president’s legal team.
The trial in the Republican-led Senate formally got underway on Thursday, though it will start in earnest on Tuesday with opening statements. The trial will determine whether Trump is removed from office.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted on Dec. 18 to impeach Trump on two charges arising from his dealings with Ukraine – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – after an investigation that centered on his request that Ukraine investigates political rival Joe Biden, the president’s possible Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 election.
The Senate is expected to acquit him, as none of its 53 Republicans has voiced support for removing him, a step that requires a two-thirds majority. Trump has denied wrongdoing and has called the impeachment process a sham.
Starr is a former federal judge who held a senior Justice Department post under Republican President George H.W. Bush. Starr’s voluminous investigative report on Clinton’s sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky served as the basis for his impeachment in the House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The Senate in 1999 acquitted Clinton, a Democrat. Starr had recommended impeachment on 11 grounds.
In 2016, Starr was ousted as president of Baylor University, a private Baptist institution in Texas, after an investigation by an outside law firm determined that university leaders had mishandled accusations of sexual assault by football players. Critics of Starr at the time accused him of turning a blind eye to sexual violence on his campus after pursuing Clinton for a sexual relationship.
Both Starr and Dershowitz also served as lawyers for financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in his New York jail cell last year where he was being held on new sex trafficking charges.
In 1999, Trump made unflattering comments about Starr, saying in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show after Clinton’s acquittal: “I think Ken Starr’s a lunatic.” In a 1999 interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Trump said, “Starr’s a freak. I bet he’s got something in his closet.”