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Trump Adds Big Names to Impeachment Defense Team

FILE - Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr signs a copy of his recent book "Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation" at the University of New Mexico School of Law in Albuquerque, Jan. 23, 2019.

President Donald Trump has assembled a made-for-TV legal team for his Senate impeachment trial.

The team includes Ken Starr, the prosecutor whose investigation two decades ago resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Also, former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz will deliver constitutional arguments meant to shield Trump from allegations that he abused his power.

The additions on Friday bring experience in the politics of impeachment as well as constitutional law to the team, which faced a busy weekend of deadlines for legal briefs and other documents before opening arguments begin Tuesday.

The two new Trump attorneys are already nationally known both for their involvement in some of the more consequential legal dramas of recent American history and for their regular appearances on Fox News, the president's preferred television network.

FILE - Attorney Alan Dershowitz leaves federal court in New York, Dec. 2, 2019.
FILE - Attorney Alan Dershowitz leaves federal court in New York, Dec. 2, 2019.

Dershowitz is a constitutional expert whose expansive views of presidential powers echo those of Trump. Starr is a veteran of partisan battles in Washington, having led the investigation into Clinton's affair with a White House intern that brought the president's impeachment by the House. Clinton was acquitted at his Senate trial, the same outcome Trump is expecting from today’s Republican-led chamber.

Still, the lead roles for Trump's defense will be played by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, who also represented Trump during special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

There are some signs of tension involving the president's outside legal team and lawyers within the White House.

The White House would not confirm the fuller roster of the president's lawyers Friday, and some officials there bristled that the announcement was not coordinated with them. Hours after Dershowitz announced his involvement with the team in a series of tweets on Friday, he played down his role by saying that he would be present for only an hour or so to make constitutional arguments.

Not a 'full-fledged member'

``I'm not a full-fledged member of the defense team,`` he told ``The Dan Abrams Show`` on SiriusXM. He has long been a critic of ``the overuse of impeachment,`` he said, and would have made the same case for a President Hillary Clinton.

A legal brief laying out the contours of the Trump defense, due at noon on Monday, was still being drafted, with White House attorneys and the outside legal team grappling over how political the document should be. Those inside the administration have echoed warnings from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the pleadings must be sensitive to the Senate's more staid traditions and leave the sharper rhetoric to Twitter and cable news.

White House lawyers were successful in keeping Trump from adding House Republicans to the team, but they also advised him against tapping Dershowitz, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions. They're concerned because of the professor's association with Jeffrey Epstein, the millionaire who killed himself in jail last summer while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

A Fox News host said on the air that Starr would be parting ways with the network as a result of his role on the legal team.

FILE - White House adviser Pam Bondi stands in the Oval Office as President Donald Trump participates in a bill signing ceremony for the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, Nov. 25, 2019, in Washington.
FILE - White House adviser Pam Bondi stands in the Oval Office as President Donald Trump participates in a bill signing ceremony for the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, Nov. 25, 2019, in Washington.

Other members of Trump's legal defense include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general; Jane Raskin, who was part of the president's legal team during Mueller's investigation; and Robert Ray, who was part of the Whitewater investigation of the Clintons.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress, stemming from his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rivals as he was withholding security aid, and his efforts to block the ensuing congressional probe.

Senators were sworn in as jurors on Thursday by Chief Justice John Roberts.

The president insists he did nothing wrong, and he complains about his treatment daily, sometimes distracting from unrelated events. On Friday, as Trump welcomed the championship LSU football team to the Oval Office for photos, he said the space had seen ``a lot of presidents, some good, some not so good. But you got a good one now, even though they're trying to impeach the son of a bitch. Can you believe that?''

New revelations

While the president speaks dismissively of the case, new revelations are mounting about his actions toward Ukraine.

The Government Accountability Office said Thursday that the White House violated federal law in withholding the security assistance to Ukraine, which shares a border with hostile Russia.

At the same time, an indicted associate of Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, has turned over to prosecutors new documents linking the president to the shadow foreign policy being run by Giuliani. The voluble Giuliani is not expected to play a formal role on the impeachment defense legal team, according to one official.

The GAO report and Parnas documents have applied fresh pressure to senators to call more witnesses for the trial, a main source of contention that is still to be resolved. The White House has instructed officials not to comply with subpoenas from Congress requesting witnesses or other information.