Trump was quite displeased with his impeachment defense team

For former President Donald Trump, the opening day of his second impeachment trial did not go as planned or to his liking.

Cocooned at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump watched as his defense attorneys responded to an emotional presentation by House impeachment managers with a series of dry, technical and at times meandering arguments about due process and the constitutionality of the proceedings. As they droned on, he grew increasingly frustrated with the sharp contrast between their muted response and the prosecution’s opening salvo, according to two people familiar with his thinking.

"President Trump was not happy with the performance of his legal team in action,” said one of the people familiar with his thinking.

It didn’t help that his lead attorney, former Pennsylvania prosecutor Bruce Castor, name-checked Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who just days ago slammed his state party for their “weird worship” of Trump. Castor also referred to Trump as the “former president,” conceding that he had in fact lost the 2020 election when he was removed by “smart” voters last November.

Trump, according to those familiar with his thinking, saw his legal team’s performance as a missed opportunity and also was annoyed by the public criticism of his attorneys. And he wasn’t the only one.

Some people close to the president’s defense team said they quit watching the proceedings out of sheer frustration with Castor’s presentation and were confused by his refusal to use graphics or a video––tools his TV-obsessed client had hoped to deploy.

At one point during Castor’s remarks, the right-wing network Newsmax––which Trump had been watching throughout the day, according to a person familiar with his viewing habits––cut away to a segment featuring the ex-president’s former impeachment attorney Alan Dershowitz.

“I have no idea what he is doing,” Dershowitz said of Castor, shaking his head dismissively. “The American people are entitled to an argument… but this, just, after all kinds of very strong presentations on the part of the House managers… it does not appear to me to be effective advocacy.”

Dershowitz’s assessment was later shared on Twitter by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), a steadfast Trump ally who offered to resign from Congress last week to represent Trump himself.

“Explosive interview,” Gaetz said of the clip.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who met with GOP senators ahead of the trial to brief them on theories about its constitutionality, suggested Castor spent too much time focusing on extraneous arguments before arriving at the core of Trump’s defense.

“I am surprised by the exhaustion of so much time before addressing the concrete and compelling constitutional arguments,” Turley said in a text message. “They have a finite amount of time but you could not tell that this long opening.”

The decidedly frosty reaction from Trump and his allies mirrored the reviews that some GOP Senators offered upon leaving the chamber. And it raised a variety of questions: would the ex-president demand an adjustment of strategy? Was he regretting not appearing himself? And, most intriguing, what would his offerings be if he still had a Twitter account?

Trump’s own attorneys seemed to concede that their presentation wasn’t quite on par with the one offered by the House impeachment managers, who used their time on the floor to remind Senators of the harrowing scenes that took place on Capitol grounds with a dramatic video that juxtaposed Trump’s speech on Jan. 6 with his supporters violently breaking through security barriers and clashing with bloodied police officers.

“I'll be quite frank with you,” Castor said at one point, “we changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the House managers' presentation was well-done. And I wanted you to know that we have responses to those things.”

According to initial plans for the trial, Trump attorney David Schoen was expected to begin arguments. But an aide to Trump said that, at the last minute, they decided to let Castor go first as part of a “very clear, deliberative strategy.”

“This is about lowering the temperature from the Democrats’ emotionally charged opening argument before dropping the hammer on the unconstitutional nature of this impeachment witch hunt,” the aide said.

Despite the rockiness of the presentation and the bad reviews for it, only one Republican Senator seemed swayed by the proceedings. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who initially voted that the trial was unconstitutional because it involved a former president, changed his mind on Tuesday, joining only five other Republicans to affirm the constitutionality of the impeachment trial. The Senate will move ahead with the trial on Wednesday afternoon.

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Trump and the conservative groups that support him aren’t fretting the impeachment trial

A constellation of conservative groups that rallied behind former President Donald Trump during his first impeachment is sitting this one out, confident that the outcome is preordained.

The groups have gone quiet on social media, eschewing the pro-Trump tweets and calls for action that dominated their Twitter feeds last time Trump was approaching a Senate trial. Others said they are content to watch from the sidelines — opting to preserve their war chests for the 2022 midterm elections — or are still considering if and how they will get involved.

“We’re really more focused right now on a lot more of the Biden policies and executive orders,” said Peter Vicenzi, director of communications for FreedomWorks, which became an unofficial rapid response operation during Trump’s first impeachment in the fall of 2019.

During the impeachment trial in January 2020, the Tea Party Patriots did calls to action, urged supporters to call congressional offices, hosted conference calls to discuss messaging and talking points, and sent materials to voters. The group also sent 47 tweets condemning or criticizing the process. So far, this go around, it has only shared five impeachment-related tweets since the House impeached Trump again on Jan. 13, according to a POLITICO review.

“It would be news to me if any serious conservative organization was involved,” said one conservative strategist.

The hesitance of conservative organizations to join the impeachment fracas suggests that the political drama isn’t motivating Republican voters as they, and others, grow confident in Trump’s acquittal. The former president may be barreling toward a historic second impeachment trial with little infrastructure in place for his defense, but Senate Republicans almost certainly won’t care what type of defense they offer. Forty-five of them voted that a post-presidential impeachment is unconstitutional — all but ensuring that there won’t be 67 votes needed for conviction.

As a measure of Trump’s internal confidence, an aide confirmed on Monday that there are no plans for the former president — who firmly believes he is his own best advocate — to testify in his own defense next week, despite reports it was under consideration. However, Trump adviser Jason Miller would not rule out the possibility of the former president acting as his own surrogate with media appearances during impeachment.

Still, there are some disputes within Trump’s ranks over what strategy they should pursue as Trump defends himself against charges that he helped incite the deadly riot on Capitol Hill that resulted in the deaths of five people. While Trump wants to use his trial to decry voter fraud and plead for election reforms, the few aides who still staff him say their best recourse is to simply argue what the vast majority of Senate Republicans are on record saying: that the impeachment itself is unconstitutional.

One aide involved with Trump’s defense, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said there were no plans underway for the communications team to discuss election fraud as part of their messaging around impeachment, despite reports that the former president was itching to do so.

“I’ll be focused on constitutionality,” said the aide, citing the 1974 House impeachment proceedings against former President Richard Nixon, which were halted after he resigned from office and never brought to a full floor vote in the House.

“[Nixon] left and House Democrats dropped the case and moved on with the business of the American people,” the aide added, previewing a talking point ahead of next week’s trial.

Settling on a messaging strategy isn’t the only hurdle Trump and his aides face. Putting together an actual legal team has been difficult, too. Over the weekend, five lawyers who were reportedly preparing to represent the former president abruptly departed. The group had planned a two-part defense strategy focused on whether the Constitution allows for impeachment of a former president and whether the definition of incitement applies to remarks Trump delivered at the White House hours before his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

But their approach left Trump annoyed by its lack of attention to his voter fraud claims. On Sunday, the former president announced that two new attorneys, David Schoen and Bruce Castor, Jr., would take over his defense. A source close to Trump’s team said there was no expectation, as of now, that additional attorneys would be formally added to the team, including Jenna Ellis and Rudy Giuliani, the two lawyers who led Trump’s unsuccessful quest to overturn the 2020 election results.

Miller, who has been in frequent contact with Schoen over the last two weeks, told Fox News on Monday evening that the former president’s attorneys will meet the deadline to file a short brief on Tuesday in response to the article of impeachment passed by the House. He did not list election fraud among the topics when previewing the contents of Trump’s defense.

“The compressed timeline has made things interesting,” Miller said in a separate interview with POLITICO. “It’s a good thing this is pretty straightforward.”

Miller remains one of the few Trump aides who is publicly working on impeachment matters. He has been joined, in the lead-up to the trial, by a small group of former campaign aides and White House officials who are assisting with research, congressional outreach, surrogate operations and rapid response. They include Francis Brennan, Dean Cleary, Sonny Nelson, Ali Pardo and Ted Goodman from Trump’s 2020 campaign, and Ben Williamson, Ory Rinat and Sam Brown from the White House.

While the Republican National Committee has been working with Trump’s impeachment team behind the scenes, they are not expected to take a public-facing role during next week’s trial nor do they plan to launch a centralized website targeting Democratic lawmakers for supporting the impeachment proceedings — something they did in the fall of 2019 with their “Stop the Madness” campaign.

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Trump starts taking his second impeachment seriously

Donald Trump appears to be finally getting serious about his upcoming impeachment trial.

The former president has hired Butch Bowers, a longtime Republican attorney with experience in election law, to represent him when the Senate considers an article of impeachment, likely in a matter of days or weeks.

The hiring comes after Trump opted against building out a war room or communications infrastructure to push back against impeachment when it was considered by the House. The former president had also initially struggled to find someone to lead his impeachment defense, as attorneys who previously represented him declined to sign on for a second trial and suggested his political opponents had a stronger case this time.

“This is political theater and I am neither a politician or an actor. I don’t see a role for me as a lawyer,” said Alan Dershowitz, the Trump-allied attorney who joined Trump’s impeachment defense team last January.

Unlike Dershowitz, who’s faced scrutiny from bipartisan lawmakers over his ties to the late convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Trump’s new defense attorney received praise on Thursday from some of his former Republican clients. The South Carolina-based attorney previously represented former Govs. Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford, and serves as a judge advocate general officer for the South Carolina National Guard.

“Butch is a good friend and a fine lawyer. President Trump is fortunate to have him on his team,” Haley said through a spokesperson.

Sanford, who was represented by Bowers during his own battle with impeachment after he fled to Argentina with a mistress during his term as South Carolina governor, described Bowers as “ethical and competent.”

"Butch is a first-class human being. In the fifteen years … where I’ve worked with Butch in different capacities, it was just sort of run of the mill. He was perfunctory and professional,” Sanford said, adding that he does not believe Bowers will use his position on Trump’s defense team to amplify the ex-president’s baseless voter fraud allegations.

The news of Bowers hire was first reported by Punchbowl News.

Some Trump allies believe the president plans to use his trial to further his baseless claims that the election was stolen from him, according to two former aides familiar with his strategy. One of the aides cautioned that no defense strategy had been definitively agreed upon, though.

Bowers’ history suggests that the ex-president is keen on focusing on how votes were cast and counted during the 2020 cycle. Bowers served under President George W. Bush as special counsel for voting matters in the Justice Department, and worked as counsel in Florida for John McCain’s 2008 presidential run.

"All I can say is based on the Butch Bowers I know and respect, I would hope that he wouldn't be sucked in as a tool in advancing the president's conspiracy theories,” Sanford said.

Trump’s push to bolster his defense team comes one week after House Democrats impeached him for a second time on charges of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Hundreds of pro-Trump demonstrators stormed the building — injuring law enforcement officials and forcing the evacuation of members of Congress — after rallying with the ex-president outside the White House.

During that rally, Trump encouraged protesters “to walk down to the Capitol” — a phrase likely to become a focal point of his impeachment trial. Less than two hours after Trump made the remark, hundreds of his supporters burst through a security perimeter outside the building and eventually made their way inside.

Trump’s decision to hire Bowers was announced by his ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during a Senate GOP meeting on Thursday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has asked for Trump to receive two weeks to prepare his legal case for trial. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said they had received a proposal from McConnell “that only deals with pre-trial motions” and that they would “review it and discuss it with him.”

Graham, who said he has known Bowers for “a long time,” said Trump is still putting together his legal team. “Butch Bowers I think will be the sort of the anchor tenant,” Graham said.

Trump, Graham told reporters, believes a post-presidential impeachment is “unconstitutional and damages his presidency.” Legal scholars disagree with that assessment arguing that one form of punishment that Trump could receive—a prohibition from running for future office—makes clear that the founders envisioned impeachment as a tool that could be applied to current and former presidents.

Bowers could not be reached for comment.

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