Trump’s legal team notably does not include House Republicans who have sat through hours of depositions and vociferously defended the president during the House inquiry and impeachment vote. Instead, we expect those House members to fan out across media outlets and make the case for Trump there.
Here’s who’s on the offical Trump legal team for the trial:
Pat Cipollone, White House counsel
His background defending Trump: He advised the president in an outside role during the 2016 debates and, later, during special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation. Cipollone became White House counsel in December 2018. Now that he’s in a more central role during impeachment, Republican lawmakers have described Cipollone as the “quarterback” for Trump’s legal strategy.
As the whistleblower complaint that triggered the impeachment proceedings surfaced in September, Cipollone was instrumental in figuring out how to manage politically damaging information from going public. He urged the president to release the rough transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an attempt to counter the whistleblower’s complaint. House lawmakers, however, ultimately used it as a centerpiece of evidence for which to impeach Trump. On Tuesday, House Democrats wrote a letter to Cipollone questioning whether his involvement means he has a conflict of interest and shouldn’t represent Trump in a trial: “You may be a material witness to the charges against President Trump even though you are also his advocate,” they wrote.
In October, Cipollone wrote a fiery letter to House Democrats calling their inquiry unconstitutional and blocking current and former aides from testifying. His dubious legal reasoning and expansive view of presidential power earned a rebuke from nearly two dozen of his classmates from the University of Chicago Law School, who signed a letter accusing him of distorting the law and flouting intellectual honesty. He has also earned criticism for defending the president as if he were his personal lawyer, when he’s really a government official with a mandate to represent the White House’s legal interests.
As Congress tried to investigate how the White House legal team handled national security staff complaints about Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine, Cipollone recommended National Security Counsel legal adviser John Eisenberg — whom House Democrats wanted to question on his role in moving the transcript of the July call with Ukraine’s president to a highly classified server — to refuse to comply with a congressional subpoena.
His most relevant experience for an impeachment trial: He’s a corporate lawyer by trade, which means more boardroom, less courtroom. As such, some administration officials are watching to see whether he can summon a flair for drama that Trump appreciates. In terms of political experience, he worked for Attorney General William P. Barr when Barr held that job in the George H.W. Bush administration. But he also has a close relationship to Trump. After being introduced to Trump during the campaign by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, he has become one of the president’s trusted advisers. Trump has publicly praised him as “the strong, silent type,” a counterbalance to himself.
“They are stapled to each other’s side,” one official told the Wall Street Journal of Trump and Cipollone.
Jay Sekulow, personal Trump lawyer
His background defending Trump: It’s extensive. He’s one of Trump’s personal lawyers. He represented Trump during the special counsel investigation. Most recently, Sekulow is defending Trump from congressional subpoenas and from federal prosecutors in New York who are requesting the president’s financial records. Sekulow has argued that Congress is trying to get Trump’s financial records for political purposes rather than for actual legislation, and that obtaining these records would be a distraction from the president’s duties. Both are arguments lower courts rejected. The Supreme Court will hear that case in March, which Sekulow could argue for the president.
His most relevant experience for an impeachment trial: He’s used to high-pressure trials. He has argued before the Supreme Court 12 times, often arguing for Christian groups to have more freedom in public schools and facilities and parks, sometimes successfully. As host of his own weekly radio show and a frequent television commentator, he has a telegenic presence and is able to communicate clearly and concisely, which may play to his benefit when Trump is watching.
Kenneth W. Starr, former independent counsel
His background defending Trump: Well, none other than having voted for Trump. But of all the lawyers in America, Starr is among the most familiar with impeachment — from prosecuting a president.
His most relevant experience for an impeachment trial: Starr led the years-long federal investigation into then-President Bill Clinton that started as an investigation into a land deal and culminated with an explicit, detailed telling of the president’s sexual affair with intern Monica Lewinsky and allegations that he lied to a grand jury and committed perjury. It was a controversial report, but it led to Clinton’s impeachment by the Republican-controlled House and his acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Starr’s career after Clinton has not been without controversy. He was fired in 2016 as president of Baylor University amid an investigation into how the school tried to keep under wraps sexual misconduct from the school’s football team.
Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor
His background defending Trump: Dershowitz has said he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and expressed support for former vice president Joe Biden in 2020. But since Trump got elected, Dershowitz has been one of the most prominent legal voices defending the president, especially from the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference and obstruction of justice. He has met with the president several times, and in 2018, before the Ukraine allegations, he published a book, “The Case Against Impeaching Trump,” that has been criticized as being more focused on self-promotion than making an actual legal argument that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation was overreaching.
The Post’s John Wagner and Josh Dawsey report that Trump admires Dershowitz’s performances on TV and so wanted him on his defense. Dershowitz told The Post he plans to argue that the two articles of impeachment against Trump, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, don’t meet the constitutional standard of impeachment.
His most relevant experience for an impeachment trial: Before he was a fixture on Fox News, Dershowitz was already a high-profile criminal attorney defending celebrities, including O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein.
His life outside the legal profession is not without controversy. He is defending himself against a sexual assault allegation from a woman who says she was being sex-trafficked by Epstein.
Robert Ray, former independent counsel
His background defending Trump: He has written some op-eds defending Trump. But mostly, the New York prosecutor has experience with impeachment.
His most relevant experience for an impeachment trial: He led the independent counsel’s office toward the end of the investigation into Clinton, issuing the final reports alleging the president’s wrongdoing and striking a deal with Clinton to avoid the president being potentially indicted on a charge of perjury after he left office.
Pam Bondi, former Florida attorney general
Her background defending Trump: Of all the lawyers on the president’s team, Bondi perhaps has the most experience in politics. She was the attorney general in Florida for eight years and has a number of ties to Trump. She faced criticism for campaign donations she received from the Donald J. Trump Foundation and her decision not to join a lawsuit against Trump University. She now works for the Trump White House, helping guide Republicans in Congress’s response to impeachment.
Her most relevant experience for an impeachment trial: She was a former federal prosecutor. But her strength, from Trump’s perspective, comes from her telegenic appearances on TV defending him, report Wagner and Dawsey.
Pat Philbin, deputy counsel to the president
His background defending Trump: He is Cipollone’s right-hand man, his most senior deputy in the White House’s legal office. Since House Democrats took control of the chamber last January, Philbin has been part of the legal team blocking information from coming out; the Atlantic reports he was one of the lawyers following Hope Hicks’s every word when the former White House communications director testified to the House Judiciary Committee this summer, objecting to questions that he claimed might reveal privileged information, like where her office was located in the West Wing.
His most relevant experience for an impeachment trial: Philbin has plenty of experience working in sticky situations for Republican presidents. He also served as associate deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, where he helped the Justice Department decide that a domestic spying program in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was illegal. Philbin was part of a small group of Justice lawyers in the hospital room of ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft during a dramatic 2004 showdown between the Bush White House lawyers and Justice over whether to reauthorize the program. The program did not get reauthorized as the Bush White House wanted, and subsequent testimony about that meeting suggested Vice President Richard B. Cheney blocked Philbin from a high-profile job in apparent retaliation.
He was a partner in a major D.C. law firm before joining the Trump White House — and got a waiver from a law that prevents government lawyers from making decisions that could affect their old firm.
Mike Purpura, deputy White House counsel
His background defending Trump: Purpura came to the White House shortly after Democrats took over the House of Representatives, taking the lead on doing battle to prevent White House grand jury testimony with Mueller from being made public. (So far, lower courts have ruled against the White House in the Mueller case, but a federal appeals court is now considering that case, and it could go all the way to the Supreme Court.) Purpura had previously written that the president requires expansive protection from investigations from Congress, reports The Post’s Carol D. Leonnig: “Executive privilege is not a partisan issue. It’s important to protect the principle of allowing the president to receive candid, full, frank advice from his top advisers without fear that those deliberations and communications will become public.”
His background in high-profile trials: Like Trump’s other defenders, this is not the first time Purpura has defended a Republican president. He also worked in the same legal office under President George W. Bush, where he defended Bush from congressional inquiries, and was a top Justice Department official. In terms of trial work, he was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan — known for its rough-and-tumble criminal cases — and Hawaii.
Jane Raskin, a private Trump attorney
Her background defending Trump: She’s been with Trump since the Mueller investigation in 2018. The New York Times reported that Trump hired her and her husband, also an attorney, shortly after the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s office, eventually leading to Cohen’s conviction for charges tied to Trump’s 2016 campaign. She wasn’t in front of the cameras defending Trump, but rather quietly working with federal prosecutors. Bloomberg reported she was the lead attorney protecting Trump from an interview with special counsel Mueller, an interview he ultimately did not give.
Her background in high-profile trials: She is no stranger to drama, having worked to put away New England mob bosses during her time in working in the Department of Justice’s criminal division in the Reagan administration.
Eric D. Herschmann, private attorney
What his background is defending Trump: He’s a partner at a law firm that has defended Trump over the years in his private life and is founded by one of Trump’s longtime personal lawyers, Marc Kasowitz.
His background in a high-profile trial: When he was a lawyer for a natural gas company two decades ago, he sued an Arizona state official and his top aide, alleging they interfered in the company’s plan for a merger. And he won $60 million in damages.
Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.