President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders, Warren exchange underscores Iowa stakes CNN’s Van Jones: Democratic debate was ‘dispiriting,’ no evidence party can defeat Trump MORE’s legal team is gearing up for an impeachment trial that is poised to start next week, promising fireworks at a time Trump and top aides are expected to be out of the country attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his team of lawyers in the counsel’s office, along with the president’s personal attorney Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowFigures to watch as White House mounts impeachment defense Overnight Defense: Senate sends .4T spending bill to Trump | Lawmakers fail to reach deal on impeachment trial before holidays | Pompeo hits Iran with new sanctions Trump indicates White House counsel Cipollone will play lead role in Senate trial MORE, have been preparing for weeks, including through meetings with Senate leaders on Capitol Hill.
“We’ve been prepared to proceed as early as mid-December,” Sekulow told The Hill.
The White House is keeping quiet about the details of its legal strategy, including whether Trump’s Republican allies in the House will take a role in his defense. That will likely need to be decided by the end of the week.
Cipollone is expected to take a leading role, with Sekulow playing a key but supporting role. Cipollone will also be assisted by his deputies in the White House counsel’s office, Patrick Philbin and Michael Purpura.
The White House has mulled adding Alan DershowitzAlan Morton DershowitzFigures to watch as White House mounts impeachment defense Trump chats with attorney Alan Dershowitz at Mar-a-Lago From high crimes to misdemeanors MORE to the mix, though Dershowitz, a contributor to The Hill, said Monday that he had nothing to report when asked about the possibility.
The House is slated to vote Wednesday on sending articles of impeachment to the Senate after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate House to vote on Iran war powers bills sought by progressives On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Uncertainty clouds Trump’s China trade deal | Judge delays ruling in House lawsuit over Trump tax returns | Treasury blocks foreign investments in critical US firms MORE (D-Calif.) held them to seek leverage on the rules for the trial.
The House voted in December to impeach Trump in an almost completely party-line vote on charges he abused his office by pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders, Warren exchange underscores Iowa stakes Democrats clash at debate over keeping US troops in Mideast MORE, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and a debunked theory about the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack and that he obstructed the congressional inquiry.
Trump has insisted he did not pressure Ukraine nor did anything improper and accused Democrats of conducting a partisan “witch hunt” meant to damage him ahead of the 2020 election.
The Senate trial’s outcome is not in doubt given the GOP’s majority, though there is some uncertainty on whether witnesses such as former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonHouse poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate Republicans face internal brawl over impeachment witnesses McConnell opens door for Hunter Biden testimony at Trump trial MORE will be called. A few GOP senators have signaled an interest in hearing from witnesses. Witnesses would need to be approved by a majority vote in the Senate.
“I am confident that the president’s ability to defend his case the way he wants it to be defended will be protected in the process,” White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland told reporters on Monday.
Trump has also floated calling witnesses like Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats sound election security alarm after Russia’s Burisma hack House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate Congressional candidate ensnared in latest impeachment evidence MORE (D-Calif.), as well as Joe and Hunter Biden.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats sound election security alarm after Russia’s Burisma hack House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate Republicans face internal brawl over impeachment witnesses MORE (R-Ky.) indicated again Tuesday that he wants to avoid calling additional witnesses.
White House allies say it would be a grave political miscalculation for Republican senators to vote to call witnesses sought by Democrats while rejecting appeals for witnesses sought by Trump because it would send a signal of GOP disunity after not a single House Republican voted in favor of impeachment and a handful of Democrats defected.
“If that starts weakening, that could really muck up the messaging. The second we have a circular firing squad, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Senate Democrats push Trump to release full aid to Puerto Rico following earthquakes Schumer on Trump tweet: ‘How low can the president go?’ Watchdog group requests ethics probe into McConnell over impeachment remarks MORE are winning,” said one former White House official.
One Trump ally said Tuesday it appeared unlikely that any House members would be added to the defense team.
Proponents of their involvement argue those lawmakers are intimately familiar with the evidence Democratic managers will present at the trial and possess the charisma to create made-for-TV moments that could bolster the president’s defense.
Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanFive lingering questions as impeachment heads to Senate Graham: Not ‘wise’ for House Republicans to serve on Trump trial team Meadows says Matt Gaetz should be part of Trump’s impeachment defense team MORE (Ohio), John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeFive lingering questions as impeachment heads to Senate Graham: Not ‘wise’ for House Republicans to serve on Trump trial team GOP rep: Democrats changing their mind on impeachment trial rules MORE (Texas) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsTrump criticized for retweeting image of Pelosi, Schumer in Muslim attire Five lingering questions as impeachment heads to Senate Collins apologizes for saying Democrats love terrorists MORE (Ga.) are among the Republicans who have been mentioned for Trump’s team.
“Everything will be televised, it will be five or six hours a day, which considerable time of that will be Democratic House impeachment managers attacking President Trump,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign adviser who co-hosts a radio show devoted to defending the president on impeachment.
“There has to be the right mix of specific legal thought and presentation, but there also needs to be strong debaters as part of the president’s defense team,” Miller added. “Ultimately President Trump should have who he feels are his strongest defenders.”
Critics, including a number of Senate Republicans, warn this could create a circus-like atmosphere and detract from the president’s case.
Tony Sayegh, a former spokesman for Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinHillicon Valley: Apple, Barr clash over Pensacola shooter’s phone | Senate bill would boost Huawei alternatives | DHS orders agencies to fix Microsoft vulnerability | Chrome to phase out tracking cookies Uncertainty clouds Trump’s China trade deal Treasury blocks foreign investments in critical US firms MORE, and Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general, were brought on to assist the White House communications team on impeachment strategy and messaging and have met regularly with congressional staffers. They’ve also been in close consultation with the White House legal team, in addition to appearing on television to defend the president.
Ultimately, Trump is likely to serve as his own chief spokesman — far from the Senate floor.
The president has grown accustomed to lashing out over impeachment since the Democratic-led House opened an inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine. At times, he’s fired off tweets that have seemed to conflict with one another or cut against messages from the White House or his allies on Capitol Hill.
Over the weekend, Trump repeated his assertion that Pelosi and Schiff should be called to testify, apparently advocating for a lengthy trial before in the next breath suggesting the Senate dismiss the case altogether. The latter notion was quickly brushed off by Republican senators.
“I don’t really think it’s that much of a problem. It’s really just baked in,” said the former White House official of the president’s tweets. “He’s going to support whatever he thinks is best for him at that moment.”
The only way Trump’s public comments could have any impact on the proceedings, the person asserted, is if the president begins complaining that Republican senators are not treating him fairly in the trial.
“That is the only way in which I think there could be problems for Republicans, and those problems would be of Republican senators’ own making,” the former official said.
Jordain Carney and Scott Wong contributed.