Castor, who represents Trump with Attorney David Schoen, made a winding argument on the first day of the Senate impeachment, including praise for the House’s impeachment executives for a presentation he described as “well done.”
Trump almost screamed as Castor struggled to get to the heart of his defense team’s reasoning beyond the constitutionality of holding a trial for an out-of-office president. Given the legal team was put together a little over a week ago, things went as expected, one of the sources told CNN.
Even so, Trump’s allies were stunned when the lawyers switched places at the last minute.
Castor’s discursive presentation included long praise from the Senate, including its Senators from the home state of Pennsylvania – Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey – arguing that the Senate shouldn’t hold the trial. He warned that a second impeachment trial in 13 months would “open the floodgates for future impeachments” and even made the baseless rhetorical suggestion that former Obama administration attorney general Eric Holder could be indicted.
The Senate eventually voted 56-44 that impeachment is constitutional.
An advisor to Trump’s team offered an honest assessment of the chaotic opening day and asked sharply, “What the hell is going on?”
The adviser said the former president could be at serious risk if tried before a criminal court due to his inability to attract a senior legal team to the impeachment trial.
“Trump will be fucked if someone ever accuses him. Nobody wants to work with him,” said the adviser.
Schön should present first, not Castor, two people familiar with the plan told CNN. But Castor told the Senate that Trump’s legal team “changed our activities because we believed the property managers’ presentation was well done”.
After Castor Schön gave in, the tone of the defense team changed significantly. Schön accused Democrats of using impeachment as a political “blood sport” to deter Trump from running for office again, and accused them of attempting to disenfranchise pro-Trump voters.
Although the former president was dissatisfied with the early performance of his defense team, his staff remained confident that he was headed for acquittal and that would not change the outcome of the trial. Two separate sources close to Trump say he is lying down to the end of the process but is talking to aides about how to re-emerge in the midterm elections and help the Republicans.
A separate senior adviser to Trump insisted that Castor tried to lower the emotional temperature in the Senate before Schön began his presentation.
“This is about lowering the temperature after the emotionally charged opening of the Democrats before the hammer falls on the unconstitutional nature of this impeachment witch hunt,” said the adviser.
But even some GOP senators indicated that they were unimpressed by the presentation.
Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who nonetheless voted unconstitutional, told reporters bluntly, “I thought the president’s attorney – the first attorney – just walked on and on and wasn’t really talking about constitutional arguments.”
“Finally the second attorney took care of it and, I thought, did an effective job.” He quickly added, “But I’ve seen a lot of lawyers and a lot of arguments and that was – it wasn’t one of the best I’ve seen.”
Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, who was the only senator to vote differently from a procedural vote last month on the constitutionality of the process, told reporters that “property managers are focused, organized” and “made a compelling argument.” “President Trump’s team was disorganized. “
“They did everything they could to talk about the issue at hand, and when they talked about it they kind of slipped over, almost as if embarrassed about their arguments,” said Cassidy.
Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski also said, “Today should be an opportunity to learn about the constitutionality of whether or not you can go ahead with the impeachment of a former president.”
“I thought that – that the House came up with pretty good, pretty good legal analysis. In fairness, I was really stunned by the first attorney to introduce Trump for former President. I couldn’t figure out where he was going, gave 45 out of minutes to go somewhere, but I don’t think he helped us better understand where he came from in terms of constitutionality, “Murkowski said.
A source advising the Trump campaign said clearly: “To be criticized from both sides. Yikes.”
Castor and Schoen, each involved in controversial legal matters in the past, were tapped as heads of Trump’s legal team the day after CNN first reported that five members of its defense had abruptly departed. One point of friction with his previous team was that Trump wanted lawyers to focus on his election fraud claims rather than the constitutionality of convicting a former president. A source close to the first Trump impeachment team said the former president’s current attorney should not be compared to the attorneys who represented him at his first trial.
“It’s hard to compare yourself to our team,” said the source of Trump’s first impeachment team, which included Bill Clinton’s impeachment veteran Bill Starr, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi were. “Different level of experience.”
Despite the criticism, Castor simply told reporters after the day’s meeting, “I thought we had a good day, thanks.”
This story has been updated with additional reports.