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President Trump Adds High-Profile Lawyers For Impeachment Defense


For months now, President Trump has been watching lawyers defend him against impeachment on his favorite Fox News television shows, lawyers including Kenneth Starr, Pam Bondi and Robert Ray.


KENNETH STARR: I think they're stretching it beyond the textual bounds, beyond our historical bounds.

PAM BONDI: The president deserves to be heard. We should be working hand-in-hand with him. The rules of evidence will apply. These are the senators who will decide if our president is impeached, which will not happen.

ROBERT RAY: Abuse of power can't be a stalking horse for anything that you would like to shoehorn into it and say it's an impeachable offense.

CORNISH: Now they're all a part of his impeachment defense legal team. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to go through this full roster of attorneys.

Welcome back to the studio.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: Let's start with the biggest names, Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz. We're going to hear from Dershowitz more in the program, but can you talk about what they bring to this team?

KEITH: Well, Dershowitz says that he will simply be making constitutional arguments on the floor of the Senate, that the articles of impeachment presented by the House don't rise to the levels of high crimes and misdemeanors. He's a professor emeritus at Harvard. You probably know him better as the celebrity defense attorney who represented O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson. Also, though, in recent years, he's faced controversy for his connections and representation of the late sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein.

As for Kenneth Starr, he was the independent counsel whose investigations into the Clintons led to former President Bill Clinton's impeachment. Now, by the time that that impeachment took place, Starr was widely seen as having overreached the powers of his assignment. He has spent a lot of time on television and elsewhere defending the president, including this, when he was speaking to conservative talk show host Mark Levin.


MARK LEVIN: Do you think this is an effort to overthrow the president?

STARR: Absolutely. There's no - if - because of this, the Ukrainian subchapter fitting into the larger volume of - we're going to impeach him.

KEITH: Let me just add that Starr has had controversy of his own. He was fired or pushed out as president of Baylor University over the university's mishandling of sexual assault allegations. That was back in 2016.

CORNISH: Thinking back to the Clinton era, the man who followed Kenneth Starr was Robert Ray, right? He essentially closed the book on the Clinton investigations. Who else is going to be on the Trump defense team in the next two weeks?

KEITH: Jay Sekulow is one of Trump's personal attorneys. He was a key player in the president's defense during the Russia investigation. Jane Raskin worked with him on that team, and she will also be part of the president's defense. Now, one private lawyer whose name will not come up - well, he'll come up a lot, but he's not on the defense team - is Rudy Giuliani, who is really at the centerpiece of this whole controversy. Pam Bondi is another name. She joined the White House to help with communications during the impeachment inquiry. She's a former Florida attorney general and is now moving on to defend the president in the Senate trial. So those are some of them.

CORNISH: It seems like a high-powered bunch, essentially. Who wrangles this group?

KEITH: Pat Cipollone - he's the White House counsel. He'll be leading the team. He's more of a behind-the-scenes person. You'd be hard-pressed to find video of him publicly defending the president. He'll also be joined by a couple of his deputies.

CORNISH: Finally, the strategy for defense?

KEITH: The White House has already told us that they believe these articles of impeachment are so weak that they will fail on their face. We now have a cast of people who've been arguing that on television for months. We know the White House wants a swift trial, though they don't get full say in that. And they may even argue that this should be dismissed altogether. We're going to find out more about this strategy over the weekend. The White House has to formally respond to the summons from the Senate by Monday, and we'll see that legal brief and get a better sense of their legal arguments. But really, they're here to make sure that nothing too dramatic happens and that a bunch of Republican senators don't feel a need to cross the president.

CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.