Trump impeachment defense lawyers Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz share disturbing problem

While the president still stands accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women, two of his lawyers are embroiled in their own sexual misconduct and assault scandals.
Image: Kenneth Starr and Alan Dershowitz joined President Donald Trump's legal team for his impeachment trial.
Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz recently joined President Donald Trump's legal team for his impeachment trial.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News
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By Frank Figliuzzi and Karen Schwartz

There's been a lot of talk about President Donald Trump's choice of Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr as lawyers participating in his Senate impeachment trial defense. Most of this has rightly focused on the arguments both men presented at President Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1999, which stand in almost laughable contradiction to the arguments they now seek to present. But when these two hired guns are examined alongside their latest famous client, another more troubling thread emerges, one that has been all too common for those in Trump's orbit. These guys really don't like women.

While the president still stands accused of sexual misconduct, including rape, by more than 20 women, both of these lawyers are deeply embroiled in their own sexual misconduct and assault scandals.

You don’t have to go back very far to find skeletons in this legal odd couple’s closets.

You don't have to go back very far to find skeletons in this legal odd couple's closets. The two famous Fox News faces teamed up to help billionaire Jeffrey Epstein — a man Trump called a "terrific guy" who enjoyed "younger" women. Starr has come under fire for assisting in Epstein's defense in 2007. That effort resulted in an egregiously lenient 2008 plea deal.

Dershowitz's involvement with Epstein goes considerably further. Not only did Dershowitz help negotiate the part of the plea deal that granted total immunity for named Epstein co-conspirators and unnamed "potential co-conspirators," but the lawyer himself stands accused of participating in the abuse, a charge he vehemently denies.

Here's some of what we know about Dershowitz. Although Dershowitz prides himself on being a tenacious defender of civil liberties and a staunch advocate of everyone's constitutional right to a defense, he has a long record of defending a certain type of client: prominent men accused of committing violence against women. He chose to help O.J. Simpson when the former NFL star was accused of murdering his wife; he crafted a defense for Jeffrey MacDonald, the former Green Beret doctor convicted of killing his wife and two daughters; he led the appeal for British socialite Claus von Bulow, who was accused of attempting to murder his wife; and he represented boxer Mike Tyson, who had been convicted of raping an 18-year-old Miss Black America contestant. He also joined the team defending former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein from a civil suit (that case has reached a tentative settlement).

There's nothing wrong with a constitutional lawyer coming to the aid of well-known men accused of horrible crimes; everyone deserves the best defense possible. But Dershowitz has also admitted to getting massages at Epstein's home — going so far as to note he kept on his underwear — hardly standard lawyer/client behavior, and certainly not the kind of high-minded ideals to which our system aspires.

Many of the most disturbing things about Dershowitz are things he himself has said. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed on May 7, 1997, titled, "Statutory Rape Is an Outdated Concept," Dershowitz challenged the laws that criminalize sex with underage girls. In that piece, the former Harvard University law professor argues that the age of consent "certainly should not be as high 17 or 16. Reasonable people can disagree over whether it should be as low as 14."

The prominent professor's views on statutory rape and the age of consent become even more creepy when viewed through the lens of his most current personal predicament. In 2014, Virginia Roberts Guiffre, an alleged underage victim of Jeffrey Epstein, said in her court filing that Epstein let his friends borrow her for sex — friends including Dershowitz. Dershowitz denies the allegations and calls Epstein's victim a liar. After Guiffre sued Dershowitz for defamation, the lawyer filed a countersuit against his accuser.

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Some of Dershowitz's views, while no less disturbing, are of a more typical attempted woman-shaming variety. In his defense of Tyson, Dershowitz attacked the victim by asserting she was a "sexually active young woman" who "hung out in nightclubs." Dershowitz also seems to hold the view that women should be blamed for prostitution. In a 1985 article in the Gainesville Sun of Florida, Dershowitz proposed that a john "who occasionally seeks to taste the forbidden fruit of sex for hire" should not be arrested.

It would seem Starr holds similarly eyebrow-raising views on sex crimes and punishment. The former Clinton independent counsel was fired from his job as president of Baylor University in 2016 in the wake of accusations he ignored sexual assault issues on campus.

"It seems very clear that he governed over a policy that was, at best, indifferent to what was happening to Baylor women," a lawyer representing 15 women in an ongoing case against Baylor recently told NPR.

The Baylor scandal began after one of the Division I school's football players was convicted of rape. (In July, an appeals court ordered a new trial.) During the trial it was revealed that while Baylor investigated the allegations against the player, the university took no punitive action against him. After the conviction, numerous female students came forward with additional sexual assault allegations and additional convictions eventually followed. An investigation by an outside law firm found a "fundamental failure" in the university's handling of sexual assault cases under Starr.

Like Dershowitz, Starr’s role wasn’t the result of simple incompetence. Starr has admitted to hosting a fundraiser at his home for one of the football players accused of rape.

There have been many lawsuits against Baylor from women who said their allegations of assault by football players were mishandled or ignored. During one such case, lawyers alleged that Starr and other university officials helped a student they knew to be accused of sexual harassment. The university eventually settled with several accusers.

But, like Dershowitz, Starr's role wasn't the result of simple incompetence. Starr has admitted to hosting a fundraiser at his home for one of the football players accused of rape. "I did not want another injustice to be done," Starr told the Waco Tribune-Herald.

There is also the matter of Starr's most famous case, the Clinton impeachment. Many found the Starr Report, with its detailed descriptions of sex acts, perhaps needlessly prurient. In a 2018 Vanity Fair essay, Monica Lewinsky described meeting with Starr. "His demeanor, almost pastoral, was somewhere between avuncular and creepy. He kept touching my arm and elbow, which made me uncomfortable." Lewinsky could have been speaking for many when she weighed in on Starr's appointment last week on Twitter.

What does all this have to do with Trump? Depending on who's counting, about two dozen women accuse the president of sexual assault or misconduct from the 1980s through the 2000s. Many of these alleged victims have provided detailed accounts, corroborating records and evidence that they shared about the nonconsensual encounters with others. Trump categorically denies each of these accusations, as he does the stories of infidelity with and hush money payments to an adult film actress and a Playboy centerfold model. But we need only listen to the president's own words for the most revealing insight into how Trump views and treats women, from the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape to his Howard Stern appearance, when he talked about getting away with "inspecting" beauty pageant contestants.

In a new book, "A Very Stable Genius," written by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig, Trump is described as "verbally and emotionally abusive" toward then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. According to the book, the president mocked Nielsen's height and believed "she was not physically intimidating."

Robert Porter, who served as White House staff secretary for over a year, resigned amid allegations of domestic abuse by both his former wives. These allegations were no secret to the White House. Porter's security clearance was delayed because the FBI shared the claims with decision-makers at the White House.

And who was sitting behind Starr in one of the clips now circulating from his Clinton impeachment testimony? None other than Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's Supreme Court nominee whose confirmation amid sexual misconduct allegations remains an unhealed wound.

There is a theorem that "creeps of a feather flock together." But there's more to it than the affinity bad men share for each other. The commonality between Trump's approach to life and the posture of the people he's selected to defend him echoes the "Access Hollywood" tape: "When you're a star, they let you do it."

Except now they — Trump, Starr and Dershowitz — are trying to collectively assault us all by defiling our Constitution. That should have every one of us, men and women alike, equally outraged.

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