White House counsel Pat Cipollone expected to defend Trump in Senate impeachment trial

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Friday on two articles of impeachment.
Image: White House Counsel Pat Cipollone exits the U.S. Capitol after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
White House counsel Pat Cipollone exits the U.S. Capitol after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Dec. 12, 2019.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

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By Kristen Welker, Shannon Pettypiece and Adam Edelman

WASHINGTON — White House counsel Pat Cipollone is expected to argue on behalf of President Donald Trump during the Senate impeachment trial, a senior administration official told NBC News on Friday.

News of Cipollone's plan to defend Trump was first reported by Bloomberg News.

It wasn't immediately clear whether any additional counsel would either represent or advise the White House in the impeachment trial.

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The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote Friday on two articles of impeachment.

If the articles pass the committee Friday, the full House is expected to hold a floor vote on the impeachment articles, mostly likely Wednesday, before lawmakers leave for their holiday break.

If approved by the full House, a trial about whether to convict Trump and remove him from office will be held in the Senate in January.

As Trump’s lawyer in the Senate, Cipollone — who spent most of his career in commercial litigation and doesn’t have extensive experience as a trial lawyer or on television — would now be thrust into the limelight in what will effectively be the most high-profile defense attorney role in the nation, making Trump’s case not just before the Senate but also the millions of Americans watching on television.

Trump has had few obvious options to fill the role. During his impeachment, President Bill Clinton brought in experienced criminal lawyer Greg Craig specifically to oversee his defense and argue his case in the Senate.

But a month away from a Senate trial, Trump has no such lawyer on staff, with Cipollone playing the lead role in impeachment, as well as overseeing all other legal issues facing the White House.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who joined the White House last month to play a lead role on impeachment messaging, called Cipollone "one of the brightest, if not the brightest attorney I have ever worked with in this country" and "a genius" — though she would not publicly confirm his selection for the role.

"His team is prepared to take this on," she said on Fox News on Friday, but "no decisions have yet been made."