Former U.S. president Donald Trump has parted ways with his lead impeachment lawyers little more than a week before his trial, two people familiar with the situation said Saturday. The change injects fresh uncertainty into the makeup and strategy of his defence team.
Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier, both South Carolina lawyers, have left the defence team in what one person described as a “mutual decision” that reflected a difference of opinion on the direction of the case.
The two people familiar with the legal team discussions insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations. One said new additions to the legal team were expected to be announced in a day or two.
The upheaval injects fresh uncertainty into the makeup and strategy of Trump’s defence team as he prepares to face charges that he incited the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. However, all but five Senate Republicans this week voted in favour of an effort to dismiss the trial before it even started, making clear a conviction of the former president is unlikely regardless of his defence team.
Greg Harris and Johnny Gasser, two former federal prosecutors from South Carolina, are also off the team, one of the people said.
According to a different person with knowledge of the legal hires, Bowers and Barbier left the team because Trump wanted them to use a defence that relied on allegations of election fraud, and the lawyers were not willing to do so. The person was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation and requested anonymity.
Trump has struggled to find attorneys willing to defend him after becoming the first president in history to be impeached twice. He is set to stand trial the week of Feb. 8.
After numerous attorneys who defended him previously declined to take on the case, Trump was introduced to Bowers by one of his closest allies in the Senate, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Bowers, a familiar figure in Republican legal circles, had years of experience representing elected officials and political candidates, including then-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford against a failed impeachment effort that morphed into an ethics probe.
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Bowers and Barbier did not immediately return messages seeking comment Saturday evening.
Republicans and Trump aides have made clear that they intend to make a simple argument in the trial: Trump’s trial is unconstitutional because he is no longer in office.
While Republicans in Washington, D.C., had seemed eager to part ways with Trump after the deadly events of Jan. 6, they have since eased off their criticism, wary of angering the former president’s loyal voter base.
CNN was first to report the departure of the lawyers.