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White House scrambles to assemble Trump's impeachment defense

Chris Megerian and Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's lawyers are scrambling to assemble their legal team and draft opening statements for a Senate impeachment trial that could start within days and will determine whether to remove the president from office.

As the House prepared to send articles of impeachment to the Senate, Trump's lawyers have huddled in the Oval Office with their unpredictable client and sought to finalize who will appear on the president's behalf -- and who will advise on the sidelines of only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.

One wild card is Alan Dershowitz, the constitutional law scholar known for his brash style and high-profile defendants. Dershowitz, who chatted with Trump on Christmas Eve at Mar-a-Lago, Trump's resort in south Florida, could help argue constitutional issues in the Senate, according to one person with knowledge of the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It would be a quintessential Trump decision, embracing a TV-savvy attorney who has defended him on Fox News while ignoring the unease that Dershowitz has generated among some Republicans on Capitol Hill because of his association with the late Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy pedophile who rubbed shoulders with powerful figures in politics and academia.

Dershowitz has denied any wrongdoing in that case, and he declined to comment about a possible role in the impeachment trial.

Whatever is decided, Pat A. Cipollone, the White House chief counsel, and Jay Sekulow, the president's longest-serving personal lawyer, will anchor the defense strategy. Both are expected to have speaking roles once the trial begins.

 

The House of Representatives voted Dec. 18 to impeach Trump on charges of abusing his power by asking Ukraine to investigate his political enemies and of subsequently obstructing Congress by blocking senior members of his administration from cooperating with subpoenas by testifying or providing documents.

Trump's lawyers declined an offer to appear or offer a defense in the House impeachment hearings, relying instead on Republican House members, especially Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Doug Collins of Georgia and John Ratcliffe of Texas. It's unclear whether the president will seek to add any of them to his defense team for the Senate trial.

The president has insisted he's done nothing wrong, but the specifics of his trial defense remain in flux, partially because the Senate has yet to release the rules for the trial and partially because Trump is prone to changing his mind.

After spending weeks demanding an extended trial that could provide him with a cinematic closing act -- and presumed acquittal -- to the impeachment saga that began in September, Trump abruptly reversed course over the weekend and said the Republican-controlled Senate should simply dismiss the case against him.

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