One of the deputies Bowers had tapped, Deborah Barbier, a former South Carolina prosecutor, will also no longer be part of the team, Miller said.
The House impeachment article charges Trump with “incitement of insurrection” in the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by a pro-Trump mob. Since the House voted to impeach Trump, he has struggled to put together a team to mount his defense, in part because prominent lawyers seemed unwilling to associate themselves with Trump’s continued false claims that he won the election. That claim inspired his supporters to attack the Capitol.
The fate of two additional team members from South Carolina, Greg Harris and Johnny Gasser, was not immediately clear. They had not officially been named as part of the team, Miller said.
A person familiar with the change described it as a “mutual decision” for the lead South Carolina lawyers to leave the team. The shift comes amid tight deadlines to prepare for the trial. The House impeachment managers must file their briefs in the case on Tuesday. Trump’s defense team lawyers must file their briefs on Feb. 8.
New defense team members could be announced shortly, Miller said in a text message late Saturday. The collapse of Trump’s legal team was first reported Saturday night by CNN.
“The Democrats’ efforts to impeach a president who has already left office is totally unconstitutional,” Miller said in a statement sent to reporters Saturday night. “We have done much work, but have not made a final decision on our legal team, which will be made shortly.”
Neither Bowers nor the other South Carolina lawyers responded to requests for comment Saturday. It was not clear why the previously announced South Carolina lawyers were departing.
Late last week, people familiar with Trump’s developing defense strategy said that four South Carolina lawyers would be the nucleus of the Trump team.
Their selection marked a dramatic shift from Trump’s previous impeachment. During that Senate trial last year, Trump was defended by lawyers experienced on the national stage. They included Kenneth Starr, the former special prosecutor whose work led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment; Jay Sekulow, who had defended Trump previously; and Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard University law professor known for his work in high-profile, controversial cases.
The departure of the South Carolina lawyers from the team will probably disappoint Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who had recommended Bowers.
“They really have the A-team from South Carolina,” said Matt Moore, former chairman of the state Republican Party.
It recently was disclosed that Bowers had a $400,000 federal tax lien on his property in Columbia, S.C. He told The Washington Post in an interview that the lien had been resolved.
One of the other South Carolina lawyers, Harris, previously had a scrape with controversy.
Harris was a county prosecutor in a 1989 case in which the South Carolina Supreme Court found that the prosecutor had an “intent to discriminate” in explaining why a Black juror should be barred from serving in a case involving a Black defendant.
The potential juror was rejected from serving during the drunken-driving trial because the man had “shucked and jived” as he made his way to the court microphone, the prosecutor said when asked to explain his reasoning, according to the state Supreme Court opinion.
The state Supreme Court decision does not name Harris, but he was the assistant solicitor in the 5th Judicial District solicitor’s office at the time. And his opposing counsel in the case, Philip J. Mace, said he had vivid recollections of Harris’s role prosecuting his client, a Black woman, and seeking to strike Black jurors.
Harris did not respond to repeated requests for comment. His role in the case was first reported by HuffPost on Friday.
In an interview Thursday, Mace said the case became known in South Carolina legal circles as the “shuck and jive” case, and sent a signal from the state’s high court that it was on alert for a “Batson challenge,” referring to a 1986 Supreme Court ruling making it unconstitutional to exclude jurors on the basis of race or sex.
In addition to the “shuck and jive” reference, the court noted that the prosecutor successfully sought to dismiss a 43-year-old Black female juror because she appeared “extremely sluggish,” and he doubted whether she would be able to withstand the trial and be aware of what was going on, the court decision said.
Mace moved for a mistrial but the lower-court judge denied his request, saying that no pattern of racial discrimination was established and that the prosecutor’s justifications “were racially neutral.”
The state Supreme Court disagreed. It found that racial discrimination had occurred and it reversed the trial court’s conviction, citing the prosecutor’s comments — particularly his “shucked and jived” remark.
The judges wrote that the prosecutor’s “use of this racial stereotype is evidence of the prosecutor’s intent to discriminate and clearly violates the mandates” of the Batson challenge rules.
Mace said he thought Harris’s comment was “a good old boy South Carolina way of talking and not being very racially sensitive.” He added, though, that Harris had a strong reputation as a defense lawyer.
“If I was in trouble, he might be one of the lawyers I’d consider hiring,” Mace said.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.