Trump impeachment defense team expected to include Ken Starr, Alan Dershowitz

Starr investigated President Bill Clinton, and Dershowitz's past clients include Jeffrey Epstein and O.J. Simpson.

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By Hallie Jackson, Peter Alexander, Kristen Welker and Dareh Gregorian

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's defense team for his Senate impeachment trial will include former independent counsel Ken Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton, and famed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, sources familiar with the president's legal strategy told NBC News Friday.

Also joining the team is Robert Ray, who succeeded Starr as Clinton special counsel, and Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general who joined the White House in November to help manage the messaging around impeachment, the sources said.

The addition of the high-profile names, who have regularly appeared on Fox News defending the president, will add some star power to the team that will publicly argue Trump's case in the well of the Senate in a historic moment that will play out on live television.

Leading the legal team will be White House counsel Pat Cipollone, a Trump ally who has been steeped in the details of the case since the inquiry began but lacks experience as a public trial lawyer or television personality. Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, who has argued a dozen cases before the Supreme Court and guided the president through Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, will also play a leading role.

Bondi, Cipollone, Sekulow and Dershowitz are expected to all be present during the oral argument portion of the trial, one person familiar with the legal strategy said.

Working behind the scenes will be Jane Raskin, a Miami-based criminal defense lawyer who along with her husband was already a part of Trump's personal legal team, said one source familiar with the White House's plans. During the Mueller investigation, Raskin led negotiations with the special counsel's office that helped Trump avoid in-person questioning.

Trump used a celebration with the college football national champions LSU Tigers to vent his frustrations over the impeachment proceedings, joking with the team about how the Oval Office has had "some good, some not so good" occupants, "but you got a good one now, even though they’re trying to impeach the son of a bitch, can you believe that?”

The legal team will spend part of the weekend reviewing information and working on presentations ahead of Tuesday's start of the Senate trial, a source familiar with the matter said.

The White House received the summons notifying the president of the Senate trial and the charges against him Thursday night, according to a White House official. The summons requires the president to respond in writing by Saturday evening.

Dershowitz, whose past clients include financier Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and O.J. Simpson, will likely handle constitutional arguments while Starr and Ray are expected to allege that Trump's actions don’t meet the impeachment threshold, one source said. But Democrats may seize on the standards Starr set for the impeachment of Clinton to justify their case to impeach Trump.

“Its a weird choice," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said of Starr, on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," adding that he believes the impeachment case against Clinton was far weaker than the case against Trump.

Democrats could also seize on Trump's own words about Starr. "I think Ken Starr's a lunatic. I really think that Ken Starr is a disaster," Trump said in a 1999 interview with NBC's "TODAY" show.

Trump's lawyers will face off with the seven House impeachment managers named this week, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.

Missing from Trump's defense team so far is any member of the House; Trump's allies in the Senate had discouraged him from including anyone from the House over concerns it would appear overly partisan.

On Friday morning, Trump tweeted out a quote from Dershowitz’s appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Thursday night. The Harvard Law professor criticized a report by the Government Accountability Office that found the White House had broken the law by freezing aid to Ukraine, one of the issues underlying the impeachment articles.

"The GOA got it exactly backwards," Trump quoted Dershowitz as saying, using an incorrect acronym for the nonpartisan congressional watchdog.

Both Starr and Dershowitz bring their own personal controversies to the team, especially in the Me Too era.

Starr was ousted as president of Baylor University and then resigned as chancellor in 2016 amid an investigation into claims that he and school officials mishandled allegations of sexual assault by football players.

An independent investigation found that under Starr's leadership the school actively discouraged "some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault."

The report was especially surprising given Starr's history. Starr was best known as the special counsel investigating a real estate deal involving the Clintons that morphed into an investigation into whether the president had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Starr unearthed salacious details about the affair, and recommended Clinton be impeached for lying under oath about it.

After news of Starr's addition to the Trump legal team broke, Lewinsky, now an anti-bullying advocate, tweeted that "this is definitely an 'are you f------ kidding me?' kinda day."

Both Starr and Dershowitz represented Epstein over allegations that he'd had sexually abused dozens of teenage girls at his Florida estate.

With their help, Epstein was able to secure a sweetheart deal, pleading guilty to abusing one girl. He served 13 months in a county jail and was allowed to leave for work six days a week.

Dershowitz remained friends with Epstein after his release. One of Epstein's accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, sued Dershowitz for defamation last year, saying that she was a victim of sex trafficking and abuse by Epstein over a decade ago and that Dershowitz falsely claimed she had fabricated the accusations.

Her suit alleges that Dershowitz "was also a participant in sex trafficking, including as one of the men to whom Epstein lent out Plaintiff for sex."

Dershowitz has adamantly denied the allegations.

"I've never met Virginia Giuffre. I've never had sex with her. And the reason I'm saying it is because it's true," Dershowitz told reporters in September.

Shannon Pettypiece and Hans Nichols contributed.