Trump adds Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz to impeachment defense team

CNN senior political analyst David Gergen reacts to the news that President Trump is bringing Alan Dershowitz, Ken Starr and Robert Ray to his legal team as his impeachment trial looms.

Posted: Jan 17, 2020 12:50 PM
Updated: Jan 17, 2020 12:50 PM

President Donald Trump is adding three seasoned lawyers to his impeachment legal defense team, people familiar with the matter said, including Kenneth Starr, the hard-charging prosecutor whose work led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment.

Alan Dershowitz, the constitutional lawyer, and Robert Ray, Starr's successor at the Office of Independent Counsel during the Clinton administration, are also joining the team, the people said.

The three are expected to join a legal team headed by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and outside attorney Jay Sekulow, who are still expected to deliver statements on the President's behalf on the Senate floor. Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Trump's longtime personal counsel Jane Raskin will also supplement the President's impeachment legal team, a person familiar with the matter said. All are expected to have speaking roles.

Trump's impeachment trial over the Ukraine scandal officially began on Thursday. The outcome is all but determined, as the two-thirds vote required to remove the President would need 20 Republican senators to break rank. The White House did not mount a formal defense during the House's investigation as it refused to cooperate with the Democratic-led probe.

A spokesman for Trump's legal team said Dershowitz will present oral arguments at the Senate trial.

"He is participating in this impeachment trial to defend the integrity of the Constitution and to prevent the creation of a dangerous constitutional precedent," said the legal team, which noted Dershowitz opposed Clinton's impeachment and voted for his wife, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential election.

Starr, Dershowitz and Ray are expected to play a constitutional and historic role during the proceedings to support Cipollone and Sekulow.

Trump has relied on Dershowitz for advice throughout the Mueller investigation and during his impeachment. The two had been in discussions about Dershowitz joining for several weeks.

Bondi has been working at the White House as an adviser during the impeachment proceedings. Raskin is a white-collar defense lawyer who, along with her husband, worked for Trump during the Mueller investigation.

A decision on allowing House GOP allies to participate in the defense is still fluid, people with the matter said.

Officials have been hesitant to speak about who they are adding to the legal team after a botched attempt to hire Trey Gowdy last fall. Gowdy became the new face of Trump's impeachment defense team for only a matter of hours before Trump said federal lobbying rules wouldn't allow him to begin until January. He has continued to speak to Gowdy privately about the situation.

Celebrity defense attorneys

Trump's decision to add Starr, Dershowitz and Ray not only adds decades of experience to his defense but legal star power for a President always mindful of having advocates who can present his case well in the media.

Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor, gained fame as a member of O.J. Simpson's defense team in the ex-football star's criminal trial in the mid-1990s. He's since defended many notable clients and remains a familiar legal analyst on television. Some aides have privately voiced concerns that his presence could be distracting given his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the late pedophile businessman. Dershowitz is embroiled in a lawsuit with a woman who claims she was a victim of Epstein's, who also claims Dershowitz sexually abused and defamed her. Dershowitz has since countersued, claiming she defamed and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on him.

Starr became a household name in the late 1990s as the then-independent counsel overseeing the investigation that led to Clinton's impeachment. The probe began with Starr looking into the Clintons' involvement with the Whitewater land deal before the investigation expanded to include the extramarital affair between Bill Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

When Starr stepped down in October 1999, citing the "intense politicization of the independent counsel process," he was succeeded by Ray.

After the announcement Friday morning, Lewinsky tweeted, "this is definitely an 'are you f---ing kidding me?' kinda day."

This story has been updated to include additional reporting and background.

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