Former president Donald Trump’s revolving cast of colorful lawyers has revolved one (last?) time on the eve of his second impeachment trial, with Trump abruptly replacing a slate of short-timers with two men: Bruce Castor and David Schoen.
Schoen has served as a lawyer to Trump adviser Roger Stone and met extensively with accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein right before Epstein was found dead in his cell. Schoen has since said that he doesn’t think Epstein killed himself, as authorities said he did.
Castor figured prominently in the Bill Cosby case. As a local prosecutor in Montgomery County, Pa., he declined to charge Cosby in 2005 after a Temple University employee accused him of sexual misconduct. Cosby was eventually convicted in 2018 of raping and drugging the woman.
Such cases often take quite a while to put together, and charging decisions are difficult for any prosecutor. But what’s particularly notable about Castor is what he did in the years after his decision not to prosecute Cosby: He advanced a rather novel legal theory that his decision not to prosecute was somehow also binding on future prosecutions, and thus Cosby couldn’t be charged in the case.
Cosby’s team called Castor as a witness, and Castor claimed there was just such a secret deal in place, despite there having been no mention of it in his news release announcing his decision.
“Mr. Cosby was not getting prosecuted at all — ever — as far as I was concerned,” Castor said. “My belief was that I had the power to make such a statement.”
Castor added: “I made a judgment as the sovereign representing the commonwealth not to prosecute Cosby. I was the only person in Pennsylvania who had the power to make that decision, and I made it.”
Castor explained that he made the decision so that Cosby couldn’t plead the Fifth Amendment in a civil case brought by the woman, Andrea Constand, which was ultimately settled in 2006. Cosby’s team used the supposed agreement in failed attempts to get the later criminal case dismissed and to argue that Cosby’s deposition in that civil case couldn’t be used at trial.
The judge, Steven T. O’Neill, asked Castor in that trial in 2016 why he hadn’t put the agreement in writing.
“If you felt there was an agreement, why did you not put it into writing?” O’Neill said. “Why did you not do that if your intention was to bar prosecution for all time? I mean, do you know why you didn’t do that?”
Castor maintained it wasn’t even relevant.
“It was unnecessary, because I concluded that there was no way the case [against Cosby] would get any better,” he said.
The judge ultimately rejected Castor’s claims and found him to not be a credible witness.
“I was unable to find any case like this,” O’Neill said of the idea of a secret non-prosecution agreement.
O’Neill didn’t elaborate too much on his decision, but he indicated that Castor’s claim was impossible to accept.
“There’s no other witness to the promise,” O’Neill said. “The rabbit is in the hat and you want me at this point to assume: ‘Hey, the promise was made, judge. Accept that.' ”
The backdrop of Castor’s testimony also loomed large at the time. Just a few months before, the former rising star in the Pennsylvania Republican Party had been trounced in his campaign to return as Montgomery County district attorney. The prosecutor who led the Cosby case, Kevin Steele, had run a series of brutal ads pointing to Castor’s decision not to prosecute Cosby.
Castor later sued Constand and her lawyers, arguing that they had defamed him and cost him his political career. (Constand had previously filed suit against Castor in 2015, and the case was later settled.) In Castor’s suit, his legal team claimed that Constand “was trying to gain a tactical advantage with the election to get Kevin Steele put in so that she could get Cosby prosecuted.” A Philadelphia judge later dismissed Castor’s suit.
The situation also carries parallels to another case that dogged the Trump administration for a time — the Epstein case. When he was U.S. attorney in Miami in 2007, Trump’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, reached a plea deal with Epstein in which Epstein was sentenced to 18 months in prison and had to register as a sex offender, but it also closed an ongoing FBI investigation and didn’t notify Epstein’s accusers. The deal was heavily criticized for being too lenient, given later revelations about Epstein’s conduct. Acosta resigned over the matter in 2019.
Castor and Schoen comprise the latest iteration of a seemingly ever-changing Trump legal team, beginning with the Russia investigation and lingering into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and now his impeachment for allegedly inciting the riot at the U.S. Capitol last month. Their elevation comes after The Washington Post reported that members of Trump’s team had departed because they balked at Trump’s preferred strategy: to litigate his baseless claims of a stolen election — claims that were overwhelmingly rejected in courts of law.
But Schoen on Sunday night claimed he wouldn’t go down that road either and would instead focus on the constitutionality of the impeachment process. And given the turmoil that has marked Trump’s legal team — and the colorful histories of many of those involved — all bets are off about what happens starting Feb. 9.