Trump assembles impeachment legal team as Senate trial nears

President Donald Trump has closely consulted with aides about the makeup of the team tasked with defending him in the upcoming Senate impeachment trial, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The team is expected to be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, along with the president’s personal attorney, Jay Sekulow. Cipollone’s deputies, Pat Philbin and Mike Purpura are expected to have a role as well.

The legal defense the White House will present is significant. Because the White House chose not to participate in the House’s impeachment investigation, it will be the first time we hear the president’s attorneys defend him against charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, mounting an argument for why he should not be removed from office.

While it’s not immediately clear what strategy the legal team will seek to employ to adhere to the president’s demands of a trial that would support his claims of no wrongdoing, a central argument will be that the president did nothing illegal.

The unknown factor here is whether a handful of the president’s staunchest allies in the House will be part of the defense team on the Senate floor. Republican Reps. Jim Jordan, John Ratcliffe and Doug Collins have spent hours prepping at the White House with members of the counsel’s office, according to sources familiar with the meetings. It would be Trump – and his attorney’s – preference to include them for a number of reasons.

The House members would be used in what sources have described as a “support role” to counter the arguments made by the House impeachment managers – those yet-to-be-named members who will present the House case to remove the president from office. Sources say their firsthand knowledge of the evidence and various closed-door depositions is advantageous to the defense.

Jordan and Ratcliffe attended nearly every closed-door deposition during the House impeachment investigation.