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White House Beefs Up Defense Team


The White House has added a number of high-profile names to President Trump's defense team this morning. This comes ahead of the beginning of the impeachment trials scheduled to begin in the Senate Tuesday. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is in the studio to talk with us about the list. Hi, Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Who's on it?

KEITH: So we already knew who some of them are - Pat Cipollone, who's the White House counsel; Jay Sekulow, who is a private attorney who worked with President Trump on the Russia investigation; and a couple of deputies to Pat Cipollone and the White House counsel's office.

Well, now the list got longer, and there are some very familiar names - Ken Starr, who was the independent counsel who basically made impeachment happen against President Clinton. You also have Alan Dershowitz, who is a Harvard professor and somewhat controversial at the moment for his involvement in the Jeffrey Epstein case, getting him sort of a break several years ago. He was also part of the O.J. defense team...

MARTIN: Right. O.J. Simpson's team.

KEITH: ...Back in the '90s. Some of this is - it's a lot of back from the '90s, in fact. Robert Ray was a deputy to Ken Starr and then went on to become - Robert Ray was the independent counsel after Ken Starr was the independent counsel.


KEITH: Also, Jane Raskin - who has worked with Jay Sekulow - a private attorney who worked on the Russia investigation and was part of the President's defense team. And finally, Pam Bondi, who is the...

MARTIN: We know that name.

KEITH: Yep. Former attorney general of Florida and who had been brought into the White House to do media relations and public relations related to impeachment, but now she's going to be part of the team that gets to go to the well of the Senate.

MARTIN: I mean, we have to acknowledge this is a president who appreciates a television performance, and there had been some reporting about Pat Cipollone, White House counsel, isn't exactly a TV guy. He's not someone who's out there.

KEITH: I mean, if you look for clips, you can't find him on TV. He didn't do cable hits. You - President Trump, I am told, has a lot of respect for him, likes him, trusts him. He is leading this team. But now this team has a lot of big names...

MARTIN: TV stars.

KEITH: ...And TV stars. You know, Jay Sekulow has gone to bat for the president on TV repeatedly, and he has a TV presence. Obviously, Alan Dershowitz and...

MARTIN: Frequent commentator on Fox News.

KEITH: Yes, in fact. And President Trump has watched him a lot. And then, of course, Ken Starr, who was part of the Clinton impeachment and who has been a public figure ever since.

MARTIN: So beyond just the public presentation, do these additions say anything about the legal strategy?

KEITH: I mean, I think that you will have Ken Starr, in all likelihood, explaining why now is different. You know, the White House has said that part of its whole approach to this is that these are the weakest impeachment articles that have ever been brought against a president. Well, you have Ken Starr, a man who bought - who, really - his investigation was the foundation of the articles of impeachment against the last president who was impeached. There's not a huge sample size here...

MARTIN: Right. It's a small club.

KEITH: ...When it comes to impeaching an American president.

MARTIN: Right.

KEITH: And so they're bringing in, essentially, an expert on impeachment.

MARTIN: And a central question will be whether or not this president committed a high crime and misdemeanor. That seems to be something that Republicans are going to seize on - that that is the bar, and this didn't meet it.

KEITH: Right. And, you know, the argument that - where's the crime? Where's the crime? Of course, there was just a Government Accountability Office ruling that the president should not have been able to withhold the funds from Ukraine.

MARTIN: Right. That that actually was a crime. We should just note, don't...

KEITH: Or against the law, at least.

MARTIN: Against the law. But there is no crime necessary to meet the bar of impeachment. It is, in the end, a political decision. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you. We appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.