Trump also brought on Robert Ray, who succeeded Starr as independent counsel in the hounding of President Bill Clinton, and Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general who got caught up in her own Trump-related scandal involving Trump University and an illegal contribution to her PAC.
What does this all-star team have in common? Between them, these four have appeared on Fox News over 350 times in the past year, according to Media Matters for America. Which no doubt left Jeanine Pirro asking why she didn’t make the cut.
First let’s note that there are perils in going to Fox News for your legal team. For instance, Robert Ray had a very Fox-y moment recently that will now prove awkward for him and Trump.
In particular, a Democrat points out to us, Ray was quoted by the Daily Signal in December talking about the desire of some Republicans to have Hunter Biden testify at Trump’s trial, and Ray said this:
The Senate could force Hunter Biden and others to testify or face prosecution for contempt of Congress, said former independent counsel Robert Ray, who was involved in the investigation that led to Clinton’s impeachment.“The Senate has the power to compel witnesses. So, subpoenas would be enforceable. Contempt of Congress is illegal. I don’t know that they have the votes, as a political question,” Ray told The Daily Signal.
Contempt of Congress is illegal? You don’t say! This sort of defiance of Congress is one of the things that Trump got impeached for: his serial refusal to comply with any and all subpoenas during the impeachment inquiry.
Ray was saying that as a way to feed the Fox News-fueled desire to see Hunter Biden hauled before the Senate trial. But now, having a member of Trump’s own legal team on record saying that so recently seems less than ideal.
More broadly, Trump’s decision to reach deep into the Fox News bench also gives us a window into how he sees the purpose of his defense.
Trump is clearly proceeding from the premise that acquittal is all but preordained. He’s not worrying about the five or six Republican senators who might conceivably vote against him, either because they face tough reelection campaigns or they’re retiring. Instead, he’s more interested in the senators from safe Republican states. Hold them, and there will be little risk of losing the 10 Republican votes necessary for a conviction.
Strategically, that isn’t a crazy idea. Trump isn’t the only one who watches Fox News; other Republicans do too. They almost have no choice if they want to understand what their constituents are hearing and, therefore, what they’re thinking.
So a Fox News defense is what Trump is after — one that appeals to the base and thus keeps the pressure on Senate Republicans to avoid letting their consideration of the evidence against Trump get out of hand.
Indeed, Trump was probably hoping for an even more circus-like cast than this. Remember, the New York Times reported that Trump was privately arguing that a role in his impeachment defense should be carved out for three of his most buffoonishly dishonest but most Fox News-friendly propagandists: Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) and John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.). But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) advised against it.
Which points to an interesting tension here: Trump would love to treat the proceedings with as ostentatious a display of absolute contempt for the impeachment process as could conceivably be staged, and would love to see Hunter Biden’s head paraded around on a spike, too.
But McConnell still has to make sure that for a half-dozen or so vulnerable senators, the proceedings maintain an aura of seriousness — to make it appear as if the GOP Senate is doing its constitutional duty before (probably) voting against hearing new witnesses and evidence, and before (certainly) acquitting Trump.
Trump may not have gotten the three stooges of Jordan, Collins and Ratcliffe. But the team he did choose has spent countless hours on Fox News. So they’re fluent in the language of what we’ve called Foxlandia, and know how to communicate to the base. And that will probably be enough.