Last Wednesday afternoon, when former President Donald J. Trump’s legal team met in a conference room in a special suite at the Trump Hotel in Washington, a longtime advisor to Mr. Trump , Justin Clark, had an announcement to make.
Mr Clark told one of the attorneys, Bruce L. Castor Jr., that after his widely criticized performance the day before, Mr Trump no longer wanted him to appear on television during the impeachment trial.
Mr. Castor got up from his chair and began to yell at Mr. Clark angrily, arguing that Mr. Trump was wrong to demote him. The comings and goings got so hot that Mr. Castor left the conference room under his breath.
He later apologized to Mr. Clark. But the tense exchange was just one example of how Mr. Trump’s legal team hastily assembled – a mix of political hands, a personal injury attorney, a former prosecutor, and an attorney. longtime defense, most of whom didn’t like or particularly trusted. each other – clashed, stumbled, and regrouped throughout the impeachment process under the watchful and sometimes wrathful eye of his client.
The result was a plane held together with duct tape as it attempted to land.
This article is based on interviews with half a dozen members of the team and others involved in the process, which ultimately resulted in Mr. Trump’s acquittal.
“You have to remember that we had literally a week and a day to prepare for the defense and we were all people who had never met before,” said one of the attorneys, David I. Schoen, in a statement. communicated after being approached. for this article.
In the days following Mr. Trump’s impeachment for his role in inciting the January 6 riot, Mr. Trump and his aides attempted to put together a team. Several lawyers who had represented him during his previous indictment made it clear that they would not be involved this time. Other high-end defense attorneys were afraid to work for him due to the political backlash and fears that Mr. Trump would refuse to pay his legal bills.
Two weeks before the start of the Senate trial, Mr. Trump announced that he had hired a team led by Butch Bowers, a South Carolina lawyer who had defended many of the state’s prominent politicians. Soon after, Mr. Schoen, who is based in Atlanta, was named, as Mr. Schoen put it, “co-quarterbacks” with Mr. Bowers.
But Mr Bowers and four other lawyers working for Mr Trump abruptly separated from him about 10 days before the trial. Mr Bowers and Mr Trump had no chemistry, and some people familiar with the events said Mr Trump wanted the team to argue their bogus allegations of stolen elections, which Mr Bowers did not want. to do. Mr Schoen took issue with this account, saying Mr Trump had never pressured him on the issue.
However, the team suddenly needed more lawyers. Stephen R. Castor, the senior Congressional Republican lawyer who faced Democrats in Mr. Trump’s first impeachment, recommended his cousin, Bruce L. Castor Jr., a former Pennsylvania prosecutor.
Mr. Schoen believed he was still going to be responsible for the legal team. But, according to Mr. Schoen’s account, when Mr. Castor and several other attorneys he worked with in Philadelphia – including an injury lawyer by the name of Michael T. van der Veen – showed up, they have resumed the defense.
“Once again, the president made it clear that I had to take the lead and do most of the presentation,” said Schoen. “However, when Bruce arrived he brought his partner Mike and several other lawyers to help them. He immediately started setting an agenda and assigning roles. My role has been marginalized.
Mr Schoen said he mistakenly refused to push back on Mr Castor’s plan.
“My personality is such that I just wasn’t comfortable asserting myself and just accepted the agenda and thought I would do the best job I could at anything. would be assigned to me, ”Schoen said. “It was my mistake and my fault.”
Mr Schoen, who said he was in regular contact with Mr Trump, added that he had made another mistake: he did not tell Mr Trump that Mr Castor was going to play such an important role in the arguments public.
Mr. Schoen still had to present his argument on the first day of the trial. The directors of the house began the proceedings with a compelling presentation which included a chilling compilation of video clips from the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol.
Mr. Castor then told Mr. Schoen that he wanted to address the jurors.
“I admired his courage to take the plunge,” Mr. Schoen said. “Unfortunately, he was criticized quite strongly by the media and a number of people thought maybe the agenda should be reconsidered.”
Mr van der Veen said in an interview that Mr Castor spoke because he believed it would be a way to reduce the emotion in the room.
But Mr. Trump became enraged by Mr. Castor’s curvy, low-power performance. The former president called Mr. Clark, among others, to evacuate this afternoon.
“Bruce is no longer on television,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the televised presentations by the Senate floor. Mr. Trump also wanted Mr. Clark to join the legal team and present arguments to the chamber. Other advisers told the former president that shaking up the defense in the middle of the trial was a bad idea.
But Mr. Clark told Mr. van der Veen he was to inform Mr. Castor that he would not be showing up again.
But on Wednesday afternoon, when Mr. Clark arrived at the Trump International Hotel and joined the group in the conference room of a private first-floor suite called the “Townhouse,” it was clear that Mr. van der Veen hadn’t relayed the message.
So Mr. Clark did, and Mr. Castor blew up.
Mr. Castor did not respond to an email requesting comment. But both Mr. van der Veen and Mr. Schoen said they believed Mr. Castor was being unfairly pilloried.
What happened next is up for debate.
Two people involved in the effort said Mr. Clark, along with Alex Cannon, another lawyer who had worked on the Trump campaign and for the Trump organization, took over writing scripts that lawyers would use to present. and told them not to. move away from them. Jason Miller, a political adviser to Mr. Trump, reviewed the completed scripts, the people said. And Ory Rinat, a former White House aide, helped develop the visual presentations.
Mr. Schoen and Mr. van der Veen have denied that Trump’s aides scripted the presentations.
“I don’t take credit for someone else’s work and neither should they take it for mine,” van der Veen said.
On Thursday night there was another catch: Mr. Schoen had a dispute with Mr. Miller over which music videos were going to be broadcast and when. He briefly resigned, but then said he would not be making a presentation the next day and would sit at the Senate table with the other lawyers. Trump’s advisers scrambled to figure out how to get Mr. Castor, who the client didn’t want to see, to take over more of the presentation on Friday.
Mr. Trump contacted Mr. Schoen directly and, after their intervention, Mr. Schoen said he would be making his presentation after all. While the former president had developed a rapport with Mr Schoen, he also praised Mr van der Veen’s performance on Friday to other team members.
Mr Schoen, whose mother had died weeks earlier from the coronavirus and who kissed the sky after his last presentation, said Mr Trump was far from a micromanager.
“He literally called me a few times a day on certain days to tell me how much he appreciated and trusted me and that I should have more confidence in myself,” said Mr Schoen, who did not attend. to the work of the Senate. Saturday because of the Jewish Sabbath.
But Mr Schoen added that he should have kept Mr Trump more aware of who was going to speak at the trial.
“I think I let him down,” he says.