Call them the Democrats’ impeachment squad.
Over the past year, House Democrats have tapped a font of outside legal experts to essentially manage the weighty, historic task of investigating, litigating — and now impeaching — President Donald Trump.
There’s the four-decade Justice Department veteran who is waging the legal battle to get testimony from Trump’s aides. There’s the former Obama White House ethics chief who finally got a congressional perch to dress down Trump. There’s the onetime House lawyer who defended Bill Clinton and was lured back 20 years later.
Most of them were brought on to investigate Trump’s political and financial ties to Russia. But they will be remembered as the team that helped impeach Trump over Ukraine.
In all, at least two dozen attorneys have come on board to craft both the legal and political arguments that Trump is defying all manner of constitutional norms. A few have become stars in their own right, serving as both lead interrogator and witness during the nationally televised impeachment hearings. Others have worked behind the scenes, writing legal briefs and trying to convince federal judges that Trump can’t block witnesses or withhold critical evidence. And they’ve been there in private meetings with the party leaders as they wrote the articles of impeachment that that were up for a vote late Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee.
Many are ringers, hired to handle the entirely different kind of workload that comes with impeachment. It’s a task that requires specialized expertise on everything from the constitutional mechanisms for removing a president to arcane legal theories about the balance of power between Congress and the White House that look to be on track to land before the Supreme Court.
They’re pulling long hours alongside veteran full-time Capitol Hill staffers and other newbies plucked from a flood of résumés that poured in after the Democrats won control of the House last November, which offered a rare opportunity for experienced lawyers who wanted to give the Trump presidency a thorough vetting.
“I think people do see that this is a critical time in our history,” said Mary McCord, a former DOJ official who helped oversee the FBI’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and now is listed as a top outside counsel for the House in key legal fights tied to impeachment. “We see the breakdown of the whole rule of law. We see the breakdown in adherence to the Constitution and also constitutional values
“That’s why you’re seeing lawyers come out and being very willing to put in extraordinary amounts of time and effort to litigate these cases,” she added.
Republicans defending Trump have started honing in on the use of “hired gun” lawyers at the center of the president’s impeachment. Still, the full scope of attorneys that the Democrats have assembled for their current fight remains one of the largely untold stories of 2019. That’s mostly a byproduct of the culture in Congress where lawmakers make the headlines while aides do the grunt work behind the scenes.
Here’s how the legal team that came to impeach Trump came to be.
The Judiciary Committee
At the start of 2019, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler picked up former Obama White House ethics chief Norm Eisen and New York-based white-collar lawyer Barry Berke for temporary assignments in anticipation of the Russia probe coming to a close.
Back then, it was believed that special counsel Robert Mueller’s results could fuel impeachment against the president. Once Mueller finished his work, Eisen and Berke took the baton. Eisen helped lead the closed-door deposition questioning Trump’s former aide Hope Hicks. And Berke made headlines pressing Corey Lewandowski to aadmit under oath he wasn’t telling the truth during a series of cable TV interviews about his interactions with the president and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Little did they know they’d soon have to pivot on the Trump impeachment front from Mueller to the president’s attempts to pressure Ukraine’s leaders into launching investigations into his political rivals.
The duo eventually joined with longtime Nadler chief of staff Amy Rutkin, Judiciary staff director Perry Apelbaum and deputy chief counsel Aaron Hiller to write up the momentous 55-page report, released Saturday, that spelled out the constitutional grounds for impeaching Trump.
The co-authors on the report also included other recent legal hires, such as constitutional scholar Joshua Matz, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who co-wrote a 2014 book examining the ways that recent high court rulings are reshaping the Constitution. Four other fresh hires were also listed among the co-authors: Maggie Goodlander, Sarah Istel, Matthew Robinson and Kerry Tirrell.
The Intelligence Committee
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff made his goals clear earlier this year when he hired Daniel Goldman and Daniel Noble to help investigate Trump.
The duo seemed perfectly designed to probe the criminal suspicions that floated around Trump. Goldman had made a name for himself fighting Russian organized crime as a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. And Noble was a former co-chief of the complex fraud and cybercrime division in the same SDNY office.
Schiff sent another signal when he brought on Patrick Fallon, a 25-year FBI veteran and former chief of the bureau’s financial crimes section.
Alongside more than a dozen other panel colleagues, some veteran Schiff staffers like committee staff director Timothy Bergreen and general counsel Maher Bitar, others relatively new, the group was also forced to pivot from Mueller to the Ukraine scandal in September.
The legal team eventually took the lead on the Ukraine investigation, lining up closed-door depositions with 17 witnesses, holding two weeks of public hearings and alongside two other House panels producing a 300-page final report recommending the president’s impeachment. Goldman emerged from the congressional shadows during those public gatherings as the Democrats’ primary interrogator, giving him more cable news time than anyone else.
The hidden legal team
House Democrats’ legal briefs have featured an expanding cast of characters in 2019.
As a series of legal fights have moved toward a Supreme Court showdown, Democrats have brought on more muscle to try to preserve what they say is their constitutional right to interview certain witnesses and access hidden evidence as part of their impeachment inquiry.
Doug Letter has been leading the charge since the beginning. After ending a 40-year career at the Justice Department in 2018, Letter became House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s legal braintrust in January.
Letter has been the point person in the fight to get testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn’s testimony, as well as a legal quest to see to the secret grand-jury materials Robert Mueller relied on to craft his final report. More recently, Letter has been working with a team that includes several former DOJ lawyers who helped Pelosi’s inner circle make the critical decision to leave out an article of impeachment based on Mueller’s findings.
Several other lawyers have arrived under the radar.
House Democrats recently lured back on a temporary basis Ted Kalo, who served on the Judiciary Committee 20 years ago while it was defending President Bill Clinton against impeachment.
“Another day at the office. …” Kalo tweeted on Tuesday night, sharing a New York Times photograph that featured Eisen, Berke and several other Judiciary Committee aides briefing lawmakers about the impeachment articles that would soon be released to the public.
Then there’s McCord, the ex-DOJ Russia probe official who is now the legal director of Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. McCord and a team that includes former National Security Council and DOJ attorneys first appeared earlier this fall on the legal docket as attorneys representing the Judiciary Committee in its fights for McGahn’s testimony and Mueller’s grand jury evidence.
Democrats have also brought in several private practice attorneys with appellate and Supreme Court experience.
Helping the House Oversight and Reform Committee pro bono in the fight for the president’s financial records is a four-person team that includes Robbins/Russell partners Roy Englert Jr. — whose online bio touts a record of 18 wins, two losses and one split decision before the Supreme Court — and Lawrence Robbins, a prominent defense attorney whose recent clients include Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
Robert Stanton Jones and Elisabeth Theodore, both Supreme Court practitioners, are part of a separate four-person team from Arnold & Porter that recently filed paperwork on behalf of House Democrats in a lingering court battle over the legality of a subpoena to force testimony from top former Trump national security aides.
The Republican attacks
Republicans mired in the minority and with fewer funds to hire their own staff have blasted these outside hires as part of their impeachment pushback strategy.
During the Judiciary panel’s Monday hearing, Florida GOP Rep. Greg Steube chided Berke for “acting like a member of this committee.” The hearing featured both direct testimony and witness questioning from Berke.
And Republicans have reprised one of the president’s favorite Mueller-era talking points, tarring the president’s investigators as partisan hacks who just got their jobs by donating to Democrats.
“A partisan New York lawyer with written bias against President Trump who gave thousands to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign,” Steube said, describing Berke.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, picked up on the same theme in a Tuesday tweet that included a video clip from the House hearing.
“It was bring your donors to work at Democrat headquarters yesterday,” Trump Jr. wrote.
Democrats reject the personal critiques.
“This is kind of the mindless hack attacks by Trump apologist flunkies,” said Julian Epstein, a former Democratic general counsel for the House Judiciary Committee. “It betrays how little substance the other side has here.”
A House Democratic aide working on impeachment said Pelosi and the committees have been able to lean on the attorneys for critical support at a time when the party is trying to show it can both investigate the president and try to enact legislation. Judiciary staffers have been busy this year moving bills on voting rights and immigration, for example, while their Intelligence Committee counterparts tackle a reauthorization of parts of the law governing foreign surveillance and conduct briefings on the recent military base shootings.
“It’s apparent taking just one step below the surface how heavy the workload is and the challenges that that puts on the committees,” the staffer said. “You have people who are working on this who literally are working 20 to 22 hours a day, sometimes days in a row, maybe leaving briefly to get a shower and a change of clothes.”