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The thorn in Trump's side, the TV evangelist and the celebrity lawyer: Who's who in the impeachment trial

The impeachment trial is under way. Here’s who we’re going to be seeing a lot of in the coming weeks.

THE SENATE IMPEACHMENT trial into US President Donald Trump got under way yesterday at Capitol Hill in Washington. 

The president stands accused of two charges – abuse of power and obstruction of congress.

The charges centre on withheld funding from Ukraine and the allegation that Trump tried to influence the country’s president to investigate the son of political rival Joe Biden.

The previous evidence in Trump’s impeachment has already proven explosive – such as the testimony Gordon Sondland, United States Ambassador to the European Union – but this Senate impeachment trial raises the stakes with the (albeit slim) possibility that it could result in Trump’s removal from the White House. 

The trial promises to be a partisan affair, with plenty of opportunities for political point-scoring between Republicans and Democrats as the opening statements get under way in the coming days.

We’re not yet sure who – if any – witnesses we’ll hear from but we can expect to see some of the cast of characters below featuring prominently over the next few weeks.

The Democrats

Chief prosecutor – Adam Schiff

trump-impeachment Adam Schiff will lead the prosecuting team. Source: AP/PA Images

Southern California congressman Adam Schiff (59) is leading the impeachment trial against Donald Trump.

The Harvard Law School alumni chairs the House Intelligence Committee where he proved a wily operator as he led the impeachment investigation over the past four months. 

His calm demeanour contrasted with the repeated depositions and efforts by Republicans to steer away from the allegations against the president.

Trump labelled him “corrupt politician Shifty Schiff,” and “a very sick man,” and in political rallies taunts the Democrat over his physical appearance. 

“You little pencil-neck,” Trump said at one recent rally. “He has the smallest shirt collar you can get.”

Schiff never responds, turning the issue every time back to Trump’s own behaviour.

“He is not going to intimidate me,” Schiff told CNN in December. “But this is precisely the kind of conduct Americans should not accept in the Oval Office.”

Thorn in the side – Jerry Nadler

news-impeachment-manager-press-conference Jerry Nadler campaigned against a Trump New York development in the 1980s. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

New Yorker Jerry Nadler (72) is also one of the leading figures on the prosecuting team, and he has some history with the US President.

The duo first came to loggerheads in the 1980s when Nadler, representing Manhattan’s affluent Upper West Side in the state legislature, opposed a huge Trump development that would transform the historic district.

The project on the site of a dilapidated railroad yard originally envisaged a 150-story skyscraper, the world’s tallest, with Trump occupying the lavish penthouse.

But opposition from residents led in part by Nadler forced the real estate magnate to substantially revise his ambitions.

When he gained a seat in Congress in 1992, he continued to pressure Trump, successfully suppressing the use of federal funds in support of the project.

In a book published in 2000, The America We Deserve, Trump took his revenge, singling out Nadler as “one of the most egregious hacks in contemporary politics.”

In his role as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Nadler led the drafting of the two impeachment articles against the president and is a key member of the Democrat team in the Senate.

Veteran – Zoe Lofgren

articles-of-impeachment-are-sent-to-the-senate Zoe Lofgren helped to draft an article of impeachment against Richard Nixon in the 1970s. Source: CNP/SIPA USA/PA Images

Another representative for California, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (72) has plenty of experience when it comes to impeachment.

She was a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 and helped to draft one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. In Nixon’s case, he resigned before he could be impeached.

She told NPR: “But I do remember as an observer just being on the scene when the facts came out, the members of the Judiciary Committee came together to say, you – this cannot be permitted. It taught me that the facts should lead to the conclusion.”

Lofgren has described Trump’s actions with Ukraine as an “extraordinary misuse of his power”.

Other members of the prosecuting team include former police chief Val Demings of Florida, House Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries, former judge Sylvia Garcia of Texas and retired army ranger Jason Crow of Colorado.

Trump’s team

Lead lawyer – Pat Cipollone

trump-impeachment-cipollone White House counsel Pat Cipollone (on the right) Source: Andrew Harnik/PA Images

The White House may be full of characters but official lawyer Pat Cipollone (53) has largely flown under the radar, rarely speaking to the media.

During his time under President Trump, he has forcefully defended the president’s rights to executive privilege and argued that congressional investigators had no right to question White House staff about their conversations with the president. 

He sent a letter in October to the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives and bluntly told them the administration was refusing to cooperate with the impeachment investigation.

The whole thing was “partisan and unconstitutional” and as a result Trump and his entire staff “cannot participate,” Cipollone said.

Trump is now relying on the fervent Catholic, who has 10 children, to save his presidency.  

In Trump’s own words, Cipollone is the “strong, silent type”. 

Celebrity lawyer - Alan Dershowitz

usprotest-over-ny-times-anti-semitic-cartoon Dershowitz has represented well-known clients in high-profile cases. Source: Erik McGregor SIPA USA/PA Images

One of America’s most well-known lawyers, the 81-year-old Dershowitz has represented the likes of OJ Simpson and Mike Tyson.

Dershowitz has said he will present oral arguments outlining the constitutional arguments against Trump’s impeachment to “defend the integrity of the Constitution and to prevent the creation of a dangerous constitutional precedent”. 

The Harvard Law Professor, who publicly opposed Clinton’s impeachment, shrugs off the ignominy of past clients, saying he is standing up for individual rights under the law. 

But last year, during the prosecution of his friend and former client Jeffrey Epstein – who later killed himself in jail – Dershowitz himself was accused of being a witness and participant in Epstein’s sex crimes. The lawyer denies the allegations.

Veteran – Ken Starr

ken-starr-and-andy-mccarthy-at-the-heritage-foundation Ken Starr led the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. Source: Michael Brochstein SIPA USA/PA Images

The 73-year-old veteran Ken Starr has plenty of experience of impeachment proceedings.

As a special prosecutor he led the investigation that saw Bill Clinton impeached and tried in 1998 and 1999.

Despite pressing ahead with his own sustained probe into Clinton, Starr was a strong critic of the Russia collusion investigation into Trump by special counsel Robert Mueller.

A regular on Fox News as a guest, Starr called the House Democrats’ probe into the Ukraine affair that brought about Trump’s impeachment a “coup d’etat”.

He and Trump, however, haven’t always been on the same page. In an interview in 1999, Trump told NBC’s Today show that Starr is a “lunatic” and a “disaster”. 

Ally – Jay Sekulow

from-behind-his-radio-microphone-trump-lawyer-targets-his-clients-tormentors Jay Sekulow has extensive media experience. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Trump’s 63-year-old personal lawyer made his name leading the American Center for Law & Justice to promote conservative Christian ideals.

He made a fortune from  televised evangelism, and won several Supreme Court cases on religious freedom, allying himself with other key supporters of Trump from the conservative legal community.

The host of a radio and TV talk show, Sekulow has extensive media experience. 

As chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, Sekulow has also represented Trump in his fight to prevent the release of his tax returns.

Longtime supporter – Pam Bondi

trump-impeachment Pam Bondi has worked as a White House advisor in recent months. Source: Patrick Semansky/PA Images

The former attorney general of Florida and a longtime Trump supporter, Pam Bondi (54) pursued Trump policies from challenging Obamacare to investigating unsupported claims of widespread “voter fraud” by Democrats. 

In 2013, the Trump Foundation donated $25,000 toward her re-election, and weeks later she declined to have Florida join a multimillion dollar fraud lawsuit against his Trump University. Both denied the two actions were linked.

While still attorney general in 2018, she hosted a program on Fox News. Last November she joined the White House communications team to help prepare for the president’s expected impeachment.

Four others will be on the team: Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Jane Raskin; Robert Ray who succeeded Starr as special prosecutor; and Michael Purpura and Patrick Philbin, both Justice Department veterans now in the White House counsel’s office.

Who else should we keep an eye out for?

Due to the nature of impeachment trials, a majority of the 100 Senators must agree on almost anything to make sure it happens. 

For a witness to be called, a motion to be made, a subpoena issued – 51 Senators must agree to the order. 

There are 53 Republicans in the Senate and 45 Democrats, with two independents.

All eyes are on the few moderate Senators for how they may be swayed on the calling of witnesses.

The emerging gang of three or four could influence the outcome of matters such as whether to subpoena former national security advisor John Bolton. That vote, however, may not happen for a few weeks. 

It’s understood Republican Senator Susan Collins has been meeting with a small number of party colleagues who want to consider witness testimony and documents that weren’t part of the initial House impeachment investigation. 

Swaying the likes of former presidential candidate Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and uniting them could see the impeachment trial compelled to hear further, potentially crucial, testimony in the coming weeks. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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