On the afternoon of February 10, when former President Donald Trumps’ legal team met in a conference room in a special suite at the Trump Hotel in Washington, a longtime Trump adviser , Justin Clark, had an announcement to make.
Clark told one of the attorneys, Bruce Castor, that after his widely criticized performance the day before, Trump no longer wanted him to appear on television during the impeachment trial.
Castor rose from his chair and began to yell at Clark angrily, arguing that Trump was wrong to demote him. The comings and goings got so hot that Castor left the conference room under his breath.
He later apologized to Clark. But the tense exchange was just one example of how Trumps hastily assembled a legal team, a mix of political hands, a personal injury lawyer, a former prosecutor and a long-time defense attorney. date, most of whom didn’t particularly like or trust each other. , stumbled and regrouped throughout the impeachment process under the watchful and at times wrathful eye of his client. The result was an aircraft held together with duct tape as it attempted to land.
This article is based on interviews with half a dozen members of the legal team and others involved in the process, which ultimately led to Trumps’ acquittal.
You have to remember that we literally had a week and a day to prepare for the defense and we were all people who had never met before, one of the attorneys, David Schoen, said in a statement after being approached for this article.
In the days following Trump’s impeachment for his role in inciting the January 6 riot, Trump and his aides attempted to put together a legal team. Several lawyers who represented him during his previous indictment have made it clear that they will not be involved this time. Other high-end defense lawyers were afraid to work for him due to the political backlash and fears that Trump would refuse to pay his legal bills.
“You have to remember that we literally had a week and a day to prepare the defense and we were all people who had never met before.”
Two weeks before the Senate trial began, Trump announced that he had hired a team led by Butch Bowers, a South Carolina lawyer who had defended many of the state’s prominent politicians. Soon after, Atlanta-based Schoen was brought in to be, as Schoen put it, co-quarterbacks with Bowers.
But Bowers and four other lawyers working for Trump abruptly separated from him about 10 days before the trial. Bowers and Trump had no chemistry, and some people familiar with the events said Trump wanted the team to assert their false claims about a stolen election, which Bowers did not want to do. Schoen disputed that account, saying Trump had never pressured him on the issue.
Nevertheless, the team suddenly needed more lawyers. Stephen Castor, the senior Republican Congressional lawyer who faced Democrats in Trump’s first indictment, recommended his cousin, Bruce Castor, a former Pennsylvania prosecutor.
Schoen believed he was always going to be in charge of the legal team. But, according to Schoens’ account, when Bruce Castor and several other attorneys he worked with in Philadelphia, including a personal injury lawyer named Michael van der Veen showed up, they took up the defense.
Again, the chair made it clear that I had to take the lead and do most of the presentation, Schoen said. However, when Bruce arrived he brought his partner Mike and several other lawyers to help them. He immediately began to set an agenda and assign roles. My role has been marginalized.
Schoen said he mistakenly refused to push back the Castors plan.
My personality is such that I just wasn’t comfortable asserting myself and just accepted the agenda and thought I would do the best job I could on whatever was assigned to me. , Schoen said. It was my mistake and my flaw.
Schoen, who said he was in regular contact with Trump, added that he made another mistake: He didn’t tell Trump that Castor was going to play such an important role in public arguments.
Schoen still had to present the opening argument on the first day of the trial. The directors of the house began the proceedings with a compelling presentation which included a chilling compilation of video clips from the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol.
Castor then told Schoen that he wanted to address the jurors.
I admired his courage to take the plunge, Schoen said. Unfortunately, it was criticized quite strongly by the media and a number of people thought that the agenda should perhaps be reconsidered.
Van der Veen said in an interview that Castor spoke up because he thought it would be a way to reduce the emotion in the room.
But Trump became enraged by Castors’ curvy, low-power performance. The former president called Clark, among others, to evacuate this afternoon.
Bruce is no longer on television, Trump said, referring to the Senate floor television presentations. Trump also wanted Clark to join the legal team and present arguments to the chamber. Other advisers told the former president that shaking up the defense in the middle of the trial was a bad idea.
But Clark told van der Veen he had to inform Castor that he would not be showing up again.
On Wednesday afternoon, when Clark arrived at the Trump International Hotel and joined the group in the conference room of a private first-floor suite called the Townhouse, it was clear that van der Veen had not relayed the message.
So Clark did, and Castor exploded.
Castor did not respond to an email requesting comment. But van der Veen and Schoen said they believe Castor is being unfairly pilloried.
What happened next is up for debate.
Two people involved in the effort said Clark, along with Alex Cannon, another lawyer who had worked on the Trump campaign and for the Trump organization, took over writing the scripts that the lawyers would use to present and their were told not to deviate from them. Jason Miller, a political adviser to Trump, reviewed the completed scripts, the people said. And Ory Rinat, a former White House aide, helped develop the visual presentations.
Schoen and van der Veen denied that Trump’s aides scripted the presentations.
I don’t take credit for anyone else’s work and neither should they take it for mine, van der Veen said.
On Thursday night there was another snag: Schoen got into a dispute with Miller over which music videos were going to air and when. He briefly resigned, but then said he would not be making a presentation the next day and would sit at the Senate table with the other lawyers. Trumps advisers scrambled to figure out how to get Castor, who the client didn’t want to see, to take over more of the presentation on Friday.
Trump contacted Schoen directly, and after they spoke, Schoen said he would be doing his presentation after all. While the former president had developed a rapport with Schoen, he also praised van der Veens’ performance on Friday to the rest of the squad.
Schoen, whose mother had died weeks earlier from the coronavirus and who kissed the sky after her last presentation, said Trump was far from a micromanager.
He literally called me a few times a day on certain days just to tell me how much he appreciated and trusted me and that I should be more confident in myself, said Schoen, who was not involved in the work of the Senate Saturday because of the Jewish Sabbath.
But Schoen added he should have kept Trump more aware of who was going to speak at the trial.
I think I let him down, he said.
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