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Trump considers written letter as part of Senate trial defense

As he adds to his legal team before the Senate impeachment trial, Trump has no plans to attend in person.
Image: Donald Trump
Donald Trump at an event for Black supporters in Atlanta on Sept. 25, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump may submit a written letter in his defense for the Senate impeachment trial, contemplating the move as he expands his legal team less than two weeks before the proceedings are set to begin, according to two people familiar with the matter.

And while he is considering such a statement, Trump is not planning to appear in person to defend himself against the charge that he incited the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the people familiar with the matter said — effectively ending any speculation of a possible cameo by the former president.

With the trial set to begin the week of Feb. 8, North Carolina attorney Joshua Howard, who spent years at the Justice Department and worked on investigations into the Clinton White House, has joined Trump’s legal defense team, according to a person familiar with the decision.

Trump’s lead impeachment lawyer, Butch Bowers, is expected to add at least one more member to the team, possibly a constitutional expert, according to two people familiar with the plans.

Bowers, Howard and Trump’s post-presidential office did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump, at his resort in South Florida, is paying close attention to where Republicans stand on impeachment, according to his allies. One of them said the former president is “encouraged” by signs at this stage that GOP senators are unlikely to convict him, and that he believes the delay in the trial likely helped his standing.

All but five of the 50 Republicans in the Senate voted for a motion Tuesday to dismiss the trial entirely on the grounds that trying a former president is unconstitutional. That vote — which failed by a 55-45 margin — does not preclude those senators from later voting to convict Trump, however. A minimum of 17 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats in the Senate for Trump to be convicted.

Howard is known in Republican circles for his work on the team investigating then-President Bill Clinton for Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky affair, as well as his efforts during the Senate confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. A Raleigh-based attorney at the law firm of Gammon, Howard and Zeszotarski, Howard was referred to Bowers by a mutual colleague in the state, according to a person familiar with the planning.

By representing a former Republican president facing impeachment charges, Howard is sort of following in his family footsteps. His father, Malcolm Howard, a retired judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina, represented President Richard Nixon in his impeachment hearings. Nixon resigned before the House could vote on impeachment articles against him.

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He joins South Carolina lawyer Deborah Barbier, who is also among those who Bowers has recruited onto Trump’s legal team, according to two people familiar with the matter. Barbier did not respond to a request for comment. Her role was first reported by The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who has remained a close Trump ally, called Barbier a “very talented prosecutor.”

“I'm sure she’ll add value to the team,” Graham said, emphasizing the necessity for Trump's legal team to focus on the constitutionality — or in his view unconstitutionality — of an impeachment trial for a civilian who has already left the presidency.

Other Trump allies have reached out to Republican senators. Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said he received a call last Saturday from former White House political director Brian Jack who told him that Trump “wanted to just express again his gratitude for your support over the years.”

“The main reason for the call was to make sure I knew from him that he's not starting to third party,” Cramer said, alluding to reports that Trump was considering forming a new political party. “I was happy to spread the message.”