I’m reminded of Nicol Williamson’s line as Merlin in Excalibur: “A dream to some … a nightmare to others!” Donald Trump’s attorneys added three high-profile attorneys to their impeachment bench, including one member of the original O.J. Simpson Dream Team. The addition of Alan Dershowitz and former special prosecutors Ken Starr and Robert Ray adds celebrity power to Trump’s defense in the Senate trial, but also plenty of baggage — including connections to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal:
President Trump plans on adding former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and the defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz to his legal team for his trial by the Senate, a person briefed on the plan said Friday.
Mr. Starr, whose investigation into President Bill Clinton’s sexual relationships led to his impeachment, will be joined by Robert Ray, who succeeded Mr. Starr as independent counsel and wrote the final report on Mr. Clinton, the person said.
Rounding out the team will be Mr. Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor who became famous as a defense counsel for high-profile defendants like O.J. Simpson.
The White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, and Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, will lead the legal team.
As CNN’s Dana Bash notes, one of the main points of commonality between the three is that they’re all on television quite a bit, especially Dershowitz. Both he and Starr make a lot of Fox News appearances, while Ray gets around a little less often but on a wider range of platforms. That was perhaps the only reason, as Axios reports that Trump wanted Dershowitz because “he’s magnificent on TV.” That will be important in a Senate trial that will be televised, and in which senators will be restrained from making the president’s case outside of the opening round.
However, both Dershowitz and Starr come with some unpleasant baggage. Starr ran the special prosecutor investigation that resulted in Bill Clinton’s impeachment and drew fire at the time for his salacious report on the Monica Lewinsky affair. Lewinsky herself offered a reaction on Twitter:
this is definitely an “are you fucking kidding me?” kinda day.
— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) January 17, 2020
Of more import in a public-relations sense will be the ties of both men to Jeffrey Epstein. Starr only did some legal work for Epstein, which is of course what attorneys do, but Dershowitz socialized with Epstein and has been accused of participating in sexual activities that may or may not have involved underage girls. Dershowitz vehemently denies any such participation, but now faces a defamation action for the manner in which he denied Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s claim. Axios’ Jonathan Swan hears that White House officials had hoped to talk Trump out of adding Dershowitz to the team because of that scandal:
Several White House officials told me they were hoping Trump wouldn’t pick Alan Dershowitz to play a role in the Senate trial. They said it was an unforced error given the team was already strong and he has close, publicly documented ties to Jeffrey Epstein which could become a distraction.
Even Robert Ray has his issues, having been accused of stalking an ex-girlfriend fourteen years ago — and having to surrender to police at that time after being charged. That’s not a hanging-out-on-Pedophile-Island kind of baggage, but it’s not exactly a nothingburger in the #MeToo era either.
What does the White House and Trump gain from taking on this baggage? All three men have brilliant legal minds, for one thing. Starr and Ray are fairly well tied to the establishment Right, but Dershowitz offers something different — a brilliant legal mind from the Left defending Trump. Although that brand might be watered down by now from Dershowitz’ constant Fox News appearances criticizing Democrats, he’s still a dyed-blue Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton and likely will vote for Joe Biden the next time out. So why did Dersh join the team?
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) January 17, 2020
Dershowitz will no doubt make an effective argument, but one has to wonder whether they asked Jonathan Turley first. Turley, also a man of the Left, made a similar argument very effectively at the House Judiciary hearing on impeachment, and then blasted his ideological allies for attacking him for just telling the truth. Perhaps Turley’s more gentle manner didn’t fit what Trump wanted for his defense, or maybe Turley just didn’t want to get involved. Dershowitz will bring fire and brimstone to his presentation, and that will ensure its entertainment value.
Finally, one has to wonder what Ken Starr will address in his arguments to the Senate. Presumably it won’t be Turley’s point on the nonsensical nature of the article on obstruction. Fifteen months ago, Starr sounded closer to the Democrats on that issue:
“If I’m on his criminal defense team, I would be very concerned,” Starr said in an interview for the latest episode of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “I don’t know what President Trump knows, but there have been a number of guilty pleas. Some of those guilty pleas go to false statements, so I would just be cautious” before answering questions from Mueller.
Starr says he’d advise this even while he believes that Trump has a duty to answer investigators’ questions under oath, just as Clinton did 20 years ago. “He is the president of the United States, and I think that carries with it an obligation to cooperate with duly-authorized federal investigations,” Starr said.
“You’re not above the law. You think you’ve got a timeout based upon your service as president. We respect you, you are occupying the presidency, you have a very important job,” Starr said. “But there’s no timeout. You have to respond when you’re summoned to the bar of justice. That’s the way I respond to all this. You have to be a rule of law person if you’re going to occupy a position of trust.”
Ahem. That pretty much fits the predicate of the basis for that second article, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the House managers — maybe Adam Schiff or Jerrold Nadler — pull out that quote during their presentation. Starr will have to argue that Trump might have been morally obligated to comply with a fair investigation, but that the House failed to engage fairly to litigate the points cited in obstruction. Still gonna be awkward, though.
In case no one recalls the scene from Excalibur, take a look at the dream sequence. It’s not even nearly the best scene from this classic take on the Arthurian cycle, so be sure to watch it again. And again. And again …