President Donald Trump is bringing in high-profile legal firepower 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 Democratic 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, Trump’s legal team and a source said. Trump adviser Pam Bondi and former independent counsel Robert Ray will also be on the team, according to the source who is familiar with the team’s composition.
The trial formally got underway on Thursday, though it will start in earnest on Tuesday with opening statements.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on two charges arising from his dealings with Ukraine – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – on Dec. 18 after an investigation that centered on his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden, the president’s possible Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 election.
The trial in the Republican-led Senate will determine whether Trump is removed from office.
The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, 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’s voluminous investigative report on Clinton’s improper behavior served as the basis for his impeachment in the House. The Senate acquitted Clinton in 1999.
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 assault by football players.
Dershowitz has been a well-known figure in U.S. legal circles for decades. He is a Harvard Law School professor and was part of the so-called “Dream Team” of lawyers who won a 1995 acquittal of O.J. Simpson.
He has been a frequent defender of Trump in media interviews.
Trump’s legal team issued a statement saying Dershowitz will present oral arguments at the trial to address the constitutional arguments against impeachment and removal from office.
“While Professor Dershowitz is non partisan when it comes to the constitution – he opposed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and voted for Hillary Clinton – he believes the issues at stake go to the heart of our enduring Constitution,” the Trump legal team said in a statement provided by Dershowitz. “He is participating in this impeachment trial to defend the integrity of the Constitution and to prevent the creation of a dangerous constitutional precedent.”
Ray succeeded Starr as independent counsel during the Clinton investigation.
One person who was not added to the team that will defend Trump at the trial is his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who played a key role in the Ukraine matter.
Democrat Adam Schiff, who heads a team of seven House members who will serve as prosecutors, appeared on the Senate floor on Thursday to read the two charges passed by the House. Schiff is a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.
Still to be determined in the trial is whether the Senate will vote to allow witness testimony and new evidence or whether senators will decide the case as Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested using only the material amassed by House investigators.
Following a White House directive, several key figures in the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine refused to provide testimony or documents in the House impeachment inquiry.
But John Bolton, the former White House national security adviser who left his post in September after a falling out with Trump, has said he is willing to testify at the impeachment trial if the Senate issues a subpoena.
Democrats will need to win the support of some moderate Senate Republicans if they hope to get a majority in the chamber to permit the calling of witnesses. Republican Senator Susan Collins said in a statement on Thursday that “I tend to believe having additional information would be helpful” and that is likely she would support a motion to call witnesses. Collins said she had not made a decision on any particular witnesses.
It is only the third impeachment trial in U.S. history. No president has been removed through impeachment.