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Tue Jan 14, 2020, 09:01 AM

The legal plan to stop senators from telling Trump: 'You're fired'


The legal plan to stop senators from telling Trump: ‘You’re fired’
Trump’s legal team defended the behavior that got him impeached. But at a Republican-controlled impeachment trial, the president’s attorneys will have a more receptive audience.
01/13/2020 07:45 PM EST

The lawyers who pushed and defended the actions that got Donald Trump impeached are now tasked with keeping the president in office.

It was the White House counsel’s team that provided the legal justification for the president’s decision to stonewall congressional subpoenas — a move that led to an article of impeachment. And it was Trump’s TV bulldog and ostensible personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who nudged on the president’s attempts to lean on Ukraine to open politically advantageous investigations — a pressure campaign that led to another article of impeachment.

Now, they all have a role to play as they plot their strategy to get Trump acquitted in his upcoming impeachment trial — both within the ornate Senate chamber and on the all-important conservative media circuit. It’s a well-worn Trump strategy: Act first, lawyer up later. And it has often made his attorneys part of the story when they inevitably get questions about Trump’s behavior. The upcoming Senate trial will be no different.

In the Senate, White House counsel Pat Cipollone will deliver opening arguments and take the lead. He’ll be flanked by two of his deputies, Michael Purpura and Patrick Philbin, who will be stationed at the president’s defense table ready to parse the Democratic prosecution’s arguments and cross examine any witnesses. Then there’s Jay Sekulow, the longest-serving member of the president’s personal legal team, who is expected to make his own trial presentation delving into the Ukraine scandal and denouncing any attempts by Democrats to link the president’s behavior to Robert Mueller’s election interference investigation.


No matter their résumés, Democrats argue that the president’s attorneys should expect to face complications during the Senate trial that could cost them Republican votes. That includes working for a president who has shown little in the way of impulse control, despite the counsel of his lawyers.

“The best lawyers can only do so much with a difficult client and a difficult case,” said Ted Kalo, a Democratic strategist who briefly worked for Pelosi and the House Judiciary Committee on messaging during their December impeachment effort.

“That challenge is further exacerbated,” he added, “by a difficult client who appears to be set on a defense strategy that’s appealing to Fox News prime-time hosts but not necessarily moderates of the Senate.”

Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

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