President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team will include Kenn Starr and Alan Dershowitz, multiple outlets confirmed on Friday.
On a surface level, the picks make reasonable sense. Dershowitz is known for being a Democratic-leaning and notable constitutional scholar, who has become a repeat defender of Trump since his election. Starr was the prosecutor who brought the impeachment case against President Bill Clinton, so he knows the terrain well.
But on any further inspection, the reasoning behind the choices falls apart. And as news of their selection spread on Friday, several developments and arguments emerged that reveal the poor optics of Trump using Dershowitz and Starr as his defenders.
Dershowitz, for one, is in an awkward position because throughout his years-long defense of Trump, he has insisted he was not interested in or angling to join the president’s defense team.
“I have no interest in changing my status from being an independent commentator on the current situation. I have no interest in becoming a lawyer in the case,” Dershowitz told the Washingtonian in 2018, when Trump’s legal issues largely surrounded Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. “I’m going to continue to say what I think. Sometimes that will help the President, sometimes it may not help the President. I’m independent, and I’m going to remain that way.”
In August 2017, when MSNBC’s Ari Melber asked Dershowitz if he had “provided any formal counsel to Donald Trump or his aides, or accepted any money, or would you consider providing counsel to them?”
“What an insulting question!” Dershowitz said in response. “Have I accepted money? I’m a liberal Democrat. I supported Hillary Clinton.” Watch the clip below:
Reports say Alan Dershowitz will join Pres Trump’s legal team, when asked about providing legal counsel to Trump in Aug 2017, Dershowitz objected it was an “insulting question” and he made “public comments” about Trump’s legal issues to protect “civil liberties” not defend Trump: pic.twitter.com/FwncT0IkVt
— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) January 17, 2020
Then there’s the problem of Dershowitz’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein. Dershowitz was Epstein’s lawyer when the financier got what is widely regarded as a phenomenal sweetheart deal as he was facing charges of sex trafficking, events that have failed to be fully explained to this day. And two women say they were directed to have sex with Dershowitz while a part of Epstein’s sex trafficking scheme; he denies the charges. Of course, Trump had his own longtime friendship with Epstein, and he appointed the federal prosecutor who oversaw Epstein’s sweetheart deal to be his Labor secretary, so perhaps the president figures one more tie to Epstein couldn’t hurt.
When it comes to Ken Starr, the pick is an awkward look because he was such a fierce crusader for Clinton’s impeachment which was, by any reasonable measure, based on much more flimsy grounds than Trump’s.
“He’ll bring a lot of the baggage of the last impeachment to this debate and people will start making comparisons and saying if then this, then that,” said the New York Times’ Peter Baker of the choice. “And it’s an interesting choice to want to import the 21-year old fight into his fight today.”
And then there’s what Trump said about Starr during the Clinton impeachment.
“I think Ken Starr is a lunatic,” Trump said in a TV interview in 1999. “I really think that Ken Starr is a disaster. … It was a long and terrible process, I really think that Ken Starr was terrible.”
Trump’s comments on Ken Starr from 1999 via MSNBC pic.twitter.com/VeDALrMT1b
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) January 17, 2020
Maureen Dowd, a New York Times opinion columnist, noted that Trump told her in 1999: “Starr’s a freak. I bet he’s got something in his closet.”
And while Starr often offered favorable commentary for the president during his legal troubles, many noted that there have been times when he seemed less confident about Trump’s innocence. After Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland testified in the House Intelligence Committee hearings, Starr said: “It doesn’t look good for the president, substantively.” He called the testimony a “bombshell” and said it would guarantee impeachment articles.
Since this is the Trump presidency we’re discussing, there’s bound to be more than just embarrassing quotes to dig up about Starr, and indeed there is. He recently left his post at Baylor University after allegations arose that the school mishandled sexual assault cases. And like Starr, he worked for Epstein.
Monica Lewinsky, who bore the brunt of Starr’s aggression as he went after Clinton, share her thoughts after he was announced as a member of the Trump defense:
this is definitely an “are you fucking kidding me?” kinda day.
— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) January 17, 2020