Framing the Impeachment Case: An Inside Look at Opposing Legal Teams

WASHINGTON — A former police chief, a prosecutor who won the conviction of an F.B.I. agent and one of Texas’ first Latina representatives. A constitutional law professor who once defended O.J. Simpson against a murder charge, a former special prosecutor who pursued the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and a litigator for the Christian right.

For the third time in American history, the Senate has convened as a court of impeachment to consider whether to remove a sitting president, and two teams of lawyers are facing off in a confrontation with heavy political and constitutional consequences.

The seven House Democratic impeachment managers, handpicked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, have argued that President Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to help smear his political rivals and obstructed Congress to conceal his actions. Mr. Trump’s defense team — drawn from the White House counsel’s office and outside lawyers, including a few who frequently appear on television — has argued that the president did nothing wrong and accused Democrats of using impeachment as a tool to remove an opponent they could not defeat at the ballot box.

Here is a look at the opposing legal teams and how they see impeachment, in their own words.  

In the prior two presidential impeachment trials, all 20 members of the House selected to prosecute the cases — seven for Andrew Johnson in 1868 and 13 for Bill Clinton in 1999 — were white men. But the group chosen by Ms. Pelosi includes two African-Americans, a Latina and three women.

Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead impeachment manager, spoke for as long as the six other managers combined, according to C-SPAN. He spent hours building the House’s case by laying out the central themes and then delivering impassioned closing statements that drew grudging praise even from Republicans who disagreed — along with his share of criticism from those who said they were insulted by his sharp assertions.

Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York and Zoe Lofgren of California, both veterans of the Clinton impeachment, drew on historic precedents from the proceedings against him and Johnson. Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York recounted the July 25 phone call at the heart of the Democratic case and worked in at least one hip-hop reference — a signature flourish — telling senators after he made the case to subpoena Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff: “And if you don’t know, now you know.” (The line is from “Juicy,” a 1994 hit by the Notorious B.I.G.)


“This moment is about ensuring that every voter — whether a maid or a janitor, whether a nurse, a teacher, or a truck driver, whether a doctor or a mechanic — that their vote matters and that American elections are decided by the American people.”

Representative Val B. Demings — Democrat of Florida and the first female police chief of Orlando, Fla.

Representatives Val B. Demings, Jason Crow and Sylvia R. Garcia, all comparatively newer lawmakers, often sought to connect the charges facing Mr. Trump to their own backgrounds. Ms. Demings drew from her experience as a police chief in Florida. Ms. Garcia recalled her time as a judge. And Mr. Crow reflected on his time as an Army Ranger dependent on military resources.

Over the allotted three days of presentation — and another day spent unsuccessfully pushing for subpoenas for additional documents and witnesses — the seven lawmakers argued that Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign against Ukraine warranted his removal from office, pointing to what they said was a dangerous pattern of putting his own interests above those of the country.

Mr. Trump’s defense team includes well-known veteran prosectors from the Clinton era, including Ken Starr, the independent counsel whose report led to the impeachment of Mr. Clinton, and Robert W. Ray, Mr. Starr’s successor.

Other members include fixtures on Fox News like Alan M. Dershowitz, the celebrity lawyer who defended Mr. Simpson, Claus von Bülow, Mike Tyson and Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who was accused of sex trafficking and killed himself last year in jail.

Led by the president’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow and Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, the defense has argued that the House Democrats rushed through the process of impeachment in their zeal to overturn the results of an election they disagreed with, and that there was no evidence in the House case beyond hearsay that Mr. Trump had sought to tie the investigations to release of the security aid.

Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Sekulow have been the president’s most frequent defenders on the Senate floor, providing most of the arguments against the Democratic effort to vote on subpoenas for documents and witnesses ahead of the team arguments. The crux of their argument is that Mr. Trump is accused of no crime and thus cannot be impeached, a legal theory that is rejected by most constitutional scholars. They also argue that Democrats are seeking to remove the president for policy judgments with which they disagree, thus nullifying the will of voters nine months before the next election.

In a remarkable twist, Mr. Starr, known for his aggressive pursuit of Mr. Clinton’s impeachment for lying about an affair with a White House intern, told the Senate on Monday that the use of the constitutional remedy should be rare, and that Mr. Trump’s actions did not rise to it.

Other lawyers on the president’s trial team include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general; Eric D. Herschmann; Michael Purpura and Patrick Philbin, deputy White House counsels; and Jane Serene Raskin, who helped defend Mr. Trump during the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and ties with the Trump campaign.

On Monday, Mr. Dershowitz was the only one of the group to directly address the revelations by John R. Bolton in an unpublished manuscript that Mr. Trump directly tied aid to Ukraine aid to investigations of his political rivals. Even if true, Mr. Dershowitz said, it was not impeachable.

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