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PolitiFact: Meet President Trump’s TV-ready impeachment defense team

Trump reportedly wanted a star-studded team capable of performing on TV.
Robert Ray, a member of President Trump's defense team, arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The U.S. Senate plunges into President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial with Republicans abruptly abandoning plans to cram opening arguments into two days but solidly rejecting for now Democratic demands for more witnesses to expose what they deem Trump’s “trifecta” of offenses. Trump himself claims he wants top aides to testify, but qualified that by suggesting there were “national security” concerns to allowing their testimony. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN  |  AP]
Robert Ray, a member of President Trump's defense team, arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The U.S. Senate plunges into President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial with Republicans abruptly abandoning plans to cram opening arguments into two days but solidly rejecting for now Democratic demands for more witnesses to expose what they deem Trump’s “trifecta” of offenses. Trump himself claims he wants top aides to testify, but qualified that by suggesting there were “national security” concerns to allowing their testimony. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN | AP]
Published Jan. 23

President Donald Trump has put together a TV-ready defense team stacked with high-profile attorneys for his Senate impeachment trial.

The team is led by White House attorneys Pat Cipollone and Jay Sekulow. It’s also headlined by household names such as Ken Starr, whose investigations led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998.

Other members on the roster include former independent counsel Robert Ray, Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, presidential adviser Pam Bondi, private counsel Jane Raskin and attorney Eric Hershmann of the Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP law firm.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment, but CNN reported that Trump wanted a star-studded team capable of performing on TV.

Starr, Ray, Dershowitz and Bondi have all spent plenty of time in the spotlight, including on Fox News, the president’s preferred cable network.

Together, they have made at least 365 Fox News appearances since January 2019, according to Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog that monitors the network.

"Trump likes people who are already famous and who defend him on TV," said Frank O. Bowman III, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and the author of a book on impeachment. "No sensible counselor would pick Starr, Dershowitz or Bondi."

Here’s what you need to know about Trump’s made-for-TV defense lineup.

In this May 8, 2014, photo, then Baylor University President Ken Starr testifies at the House Committee on Education and Workforce on college athletes forming unions. in Washington. President Donald Trump's legal team will include former Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the former independent counsel who led the Whitewater investigation into President Bill Clinton, according to a person familiar with the matter. The team will also include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke) [LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE | AP]

Ken Starr

Current role: Starr was a Fox News contributor until joining Trump’s defense team.

Background: Starr was the independent counsel who led the investigations that resulted in Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. He is a former U.S. solicitor general and federal circuit court judge.

Starr also spent time as president of Baylor University, but he was forced to step down in 2016 for allegedly mishandling several claims of sexual assault.

Bowman said Starr’s participation will invite comparisons with Clinton’s impeachment trial, when Starr argued strongly in favor of hearing from relevant witnesses.

What he’s said: Starr has appeared on Fox News roughly 125 times since January 2019, according to Media Matters. Trump has quoted him four times on Twitter since the launch of the House’s impeachment inquiry in September.

On Fox News, Starr has repeatedly downplayed Trump’s impeachment as politically motivated and weak.

"It really is not a strong case," he said in one appearance that Trump tweeted about. "This will go down as the most partisan impeachment in the history of the republic."

"Does it reach the level of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors? My assessment of the evidence thus far (is) nowhere close," he said in another appearance that earned a Trump tweet. "The evidence is conflicting and ambiguous."

Starr has argued that European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony that Trump said he wanted "no quid pro quo" undermines other evidence that the White House conditioned military aid to Ukraine on the country’s willingness to investigate Trump's political rivals.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Byron York, Starr called impeachment a “terrible thorn in the side of the American democracy.”

Attorney Robert Ray, a member of President Donald Trump's defense team, arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial quickly burst into a partisan fight Tuesday as proceedings began unfolding at the Capitol. Democrats objected strongly to rules proposed by the Republican leader for compressed arguments and a speedy trial. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN | AP]

Robert Ray

Current role: Ray is a private practice attorney.

Background: Ray succeeded Starr as independent counsel and wrapped up the investigations into Clinton. Before that, he served as assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. In 2006, he was charged with stalking a woman he had once dated.

What he’s said: Ray has made at least 70 Fox News appearances since January 2019, per Media Matters. Trump has quoted him on Twitter three times since the House inquiry began.

In one interview on Fox News, Ray described the impeachment inquiry as "an entirely partisan effort" and said "there’s not any accusation of a crime, much less evidence of one."

"This is a political effort," he said in another segment that won Trump’s praise on Twitter. "The president certainly doesn’t have to aid in the impeachment effort."

Ray also minimized a press conference in which acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney seemed to admit to a quid pro quo involving military aid to Ukraine.

"A contentious press briefing is not the place to be trying to sort out whether there is or is not an illegal quid pro quo," he told Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

Since joining Trump’s legal defense team, Ray has said that Trump’s impeachment is "an illegitimate effort by House Democrats to remove a president from office."

In this Dec. 2, 2019, photo, Attorney Alan Dershowitz leaves federal court, in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) [RICHARD DREW | AP]

Alan Dershowitz

Current role: Dershowitz is a professor emeritus at Harvard University and an author.

Background: Dershowitz became famous for representing high-profile defendants such as O.J. Simpson, boxer Mike Tyson and Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender who died by suicide in prison. His defense of Claus von Bulow for the attempted murder of his wife Sonny von Bulow was made into the 1990 movie Reversal of Fortune.

What he’s said: Dershowitz has appeared about 110 times on Fox News since January 2019, per Media Matters. We counted four times that Trump has cited him on Twitter since the start of the impeachment inquiry.

On Twitter, Dershowitz said he is participating in Trump’s defense "to defend the integrity of the Constitution and to prevent the creation of a dangerous constitutional precedent."

On Fox News, he has said that impeaching Trump for his conduct toward Ukraine would be "unconstitutional" and that Trump’s actions are not "close to being an impeachable offense."

"There are no impeachable offenses," Dershowitz said in one Fox News appearance that Trump tweeted about. "I don't think he could be impeached for the conduct that's been alleged."

Dershowitz told CNN and ABC that he would be arguing that Trump cannot be impeached on charges that don’t outline a specific crime, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that Trump should not be impeached even if all the House’s evidence is accepted as fact.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, left, arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) [JULIO CORTEZ | AP]

Pam Bondi

Current role: Bondi is a special adviser to Trump.

Background: A former prosecutor, she served as Florida’s attorney general from 2011 to 2019. She’s been on the Truth-O-Meter a number of times.

In 2016, Bondi chose not to pursue fraud allegations against Trump University after the Trump Foundation sent an improper donation to a campaign group connected to her.

What she’s said: Bondi has appeared about 60 times on Fox News since January 2019, according to Media Matters. As a presidential adviser, she has helped Trump with messaging throughout the impeachment process.

“This process has been a sham from the beginning,” Bondi said in December on Fox & Friends. “The president did everything right.”

"This should not even go to a vote," she later told Fox News host Martha MacCallum. "There is nothing there."

We’ve fact-checked Bondi’s impeachment-related claims a few times, including when she wrongly claimed that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff kicked Republicans out of the House’s closed-door hearings.

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