The Slatest

Meet Trump’s Deplorable Impeachment Defense Team

Starr looks down at his phone.
Former independent counsel Ken Starr on Sept. 18, 2018, in Washington. Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Friday, Donald Trump named his legal team to represent him in the Senate impeachment trial.

Monica Lewinsky, whose extramarital relationship with President Bill Clinton while she was a White House intern was at the center of the last impeachment, had perhaps the most apt reaction to the news.

That team includes:

Kenneth Starr: Starr is the former independent counsel who uncovered a lot of details around Lewinsky and Clinton’s affair, put them in a 435-page report that led to Clinton’s impeachment, and then became a Fox News host who opposes impeaching Trump for attempting to bribe a foreign power into helping him cheat in the 2020 election. In defending Trump on TV this time around, Starr has argued against the “evils of impeachment,” saying “impeachment has become a terrible, terrible thorn in the side of the American democracy and the conduct of American government since Watergate.”

In between being really pro-impeachment and really anti-impeachment, Starr spent some time as the president of Baylor University, a job he lost after a report demonstrated that his administration showed a “fundamental failure” in responding to sexual assaults, including an epidemic of cases involving players on the school’s football team. Presumably, Trump hired him for his gravitas and to lend historical perspective to the case, but it also could be because he just has a thing for defending sexual predators.

Robert Ray: Ray is the former federal prosecutor who took over from Starr as independent counsel after the Lewinsky scandal. One of Ray’s main jobs was to conclude the investigation of the Whitewater land deal, a failed business investment by Bill and Hillary Clinton, that originally prompted the independent counsel appointment. Ray is the much less famous independent counsel, having concluded there was not enough evidence to prove wrongdoing in the land deal and worked out essentially a plea bargain with Clinton over his false testimony in the Lewinsky case. Ray went on to be arrested for stalking in 2006. As the New York Times reported at the time: “Mr. Ray had been sending e-mail messages to and visiting a 40-year-old Manhattan woman against her wishes after she broke off their relationship about four months ago, the police said.” Only the best people!

Jay Sekulow: Sekulow is the former general counsel for Jews for Jesus. He became a stalwart litigator in support of religious freedom, defending school prayer and government funding of religious institutions. In 2011, he sued to block the construction of an Islamic community center in Manhattan and lost. Sekulow hosts a call-in radio show and has been on Trump’s legal team since at least 2017, making him the longest-standing member of that team. As part of his legal defense, Sekulow got the president to approve an arrangement for the president’s former lawyer, John Dowd, to represent Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Guliani. Parnas has since started cooperating with the impeachment investigation and publicly implicated the president.

Pat Cipollone: Cipollone succeeded Don McGahn as White House counsel in October 2018 after McGahn alleged to special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump had ordered him to falsify records to cover up previous orders to have Mueller removed. Cipollone, who worked as an assistant to Attorney General William Barr in the early 1990s, has been stalwart in his defense of the presidency during the impeachment saga. Most notably, he crafted the strategy of absolute non-cooperation with the impeachment inquiry, penning what has to be the most unhinged letter in the history of the OLC, a legal argument that basically amounted to “witch hunt!” Cipollone’s strategy, which entails refusing to comply with every single lawful subpoena the impeachment inquiry has issued for the White House, resulted in a second impeachment count against Donald Trump, obstruction of Congress, but it has also prevented the disclosure of many possibly important facts surrounding the Ukraine bribery scandal. In that way, Cipollone has probably been Trump’s most effective counsel.

Alan Dershowitz: Dershhowitz is a Harvard Law professor who is famous for his legal defense of O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bülow, and a litany of others. In recent years, he has come under scrutiny for his work representing now-deceased serial sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. One of Epstein’s accusers also accused Dershowitz of sexual assault, a charge he denies. Dershowitz has said he received a massage at Epstein’s house, which was one of the bases of Epstein’s trafficking, but insists he “kept my underwear on during the massage,” and that the massage was done by an “old, old Russian woman.”

This impeachment defense squad is truly an AYFKM all-star team.