Trump hires impeachment lawyer, McConnell wants Senate trial in February for Capitol riot incitement charge

Key Points
  • Former President Donald Trump hired South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers to defend him at his impeachment trial.
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, proposed that Trump's trial begin in mid-February.
  • Trump is accused of inciting a mob of supporters who stormed the Capitol complex in a violent but failed effort to prevent Congress from reversing the election victory of President Joe Biden.
South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers addresses the S.C. House Ethics committee during day one, Thursday, June 28, 2012.
C. Aluka Berry | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump hired South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers to defend him at his second impeachment trial, which the Senate's top Republican on Thursday proposed should begin in mid-February.

Bowers' hire came hours after NBC News reported that Trump had not retained any lawyers, much less settled on a legal strategy for the trial.

Jason Miller, a Trump advisor, told NBC News that Bowers "is well respected by both Republicans and Democrats and will do an excellent job defending President Trump."

Trump, who left office Wednesday, was impeached last week by the House of Representatives for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, by, among other things, urging supporters at a rally to pressure Congress to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump loyalist, told fellow GOP senators during a caucus conference call Thursday that Bowers agreed to represent Trump in the case after he recommended the attorney.

Graham later told reporters that he thought Trump would have a "good" legal team for the impeachment, which Bowers "will be sort of the anchor" for.

"I've known Butch for a long time, solid guy," Graham said. "I think over time, they'll put the team together."

Trump's decision to hire Bowers was first reported by the Washington newsletter Punchbowl.

The New York Times later Thursday noted that Trump's other lawyers "had all bowed out" of representing him in what will be his second impeachment trial.

Those other lawyers former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Alan Dershowitz, and Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney.

Giuliani told ABC News on Sunday that he was a "witness," which precluded him from defending Trump in the Senate.

The former New York City mayor and ex-federal prosecutor had spoken at the Jan. 6 rally before Trump, where Giuliani told the president's supporters that there should be "trial by combat" in the effort to reverse Biden's win

Bowers has a track record of representing Republicans facing potential sanctions from legislative bodies.

He defended then-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford when he faced possible impeachment for leaving the state without notice to visit his Argentine mistress. The attorney later defended then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in an ethics probe.

Bowers also served under President George W. Bush as special counsel for voting matters in the U.S. Department of Justice.

Bowers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hours after the news about Bowers broke, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he has proposed to Democratic leadership a timeline for trial-related preparations and legal briefings that would end with Trump's trial beginning sometime after Feb. 13.

There is no guarantee that Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, will agree to McConnell's timeline. It is possible that Democrats could try to force the trial to begin as early as next week.

"We received Leader McConnell's proposal that only deals with pre-trial motions late this afternoon. We will review it and discuss it with him," said Schumer's spokesperson Justin Goodman.

McConnell said the GOP caucus is "strongly united behind the principle that the institution of the Senate, the office of the presidency, and former President Trump himself all deserve a full and fair process that respects his rights and the serious factual, legal, and constitutional questions at stake."

"Given the unprecedented speed of the House's process, our proposed timeline for the initial phases includes a modest and reasonable amount of additional time for both sides to assemble their arguments before the Senate would begin to hear them," McConnell said.

He also said it is "absolutely imperative that we do not allow a half-baked process to short-circuit the due process that former President Trump deserves or damage the Senate or the presidency."

McConnell on Tuesday had said on the Senate floor that Trump was to blame for inciting the assault on the Capitol.

"The mob was fed lies," McConnell said that day. "They were provoked by the president and other powerful people."

But McConnell and other Republicans have refused to say how they will vote at the trial.

Legal questions over Trump's impeachment
Legal questions over Trump's impeachment

Democratic senators, and likely at least some Republican ones, hope to convict Trump and then vote to bar him from becoming president ever again.

Convicting Trump would require a guilty vote by two-thirds of the Senate membership. If he is convicted, the Senate could bar him from ever holding federal office by a simple majority vote.

The chamber is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. But Vice President Kamala Harris has a tiebreaker vote that gives Democrats narrow majority control of the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday told reporters that she will be coordinating with Senate impeachment managers over the next few days.

"We had to wait for the Senate to be in session," Pelosi said, explaining why she didn't immediately send the article to the upper chamber after the House impeached Trump.

"They've now informed us they're ready to receive [the article of impeachment]," Pelosi said of the Senate. "There are other questions about how a trial will proceed, but we are ready."

House Speaker Pelosi opens debate on President Trump's impeachment
House Speaker Pelosi opens debate on President Trump's impeachment

She added, "The whole world bore witness to the president's incitement."

Pelosi also said that the article of impeachment will be sent soon.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told an NBC reporter earlier Thursday that it is also not clear whether the trial will be "a full-blown trial with evidence and witnesses," or a quicker one without either of those.

Durbin noted that calling witnesses may not be necessary because "in addition to being jurists we are eyewitnesses to this crime."

"You know, it isn't like, oh, did somebody come into the Capitol," Durbin said. "We know the Capitol policeman was killed, and we saw the damage that was done."

"In that respect, it isn't like what in the hell was going on in that telephone conversation with the Ukrainian president?" said Durbin, referring to Trump's first Senate trial.

Trump was acquitted in his first impeachment trial, despite the fact that he had pressured Ukraine's leader to investigate the Biden family at the same time he was withholding military aid from the country.

Democrats had blasted Republicans at the first trial for refusing to allow witnesses.

Durbin added, "we've seen the videos" of the riot, many of which were posted online by Trump supporters who were part of the mob.

Spokespeople for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment from CNBC.

The riot at the Capitol began soon after Trump addressed supporters at a rally outside the White House, on the same day a joint session of Congress was being held to confirm the results of Biden's election.

Trump, his adult sons, Giuliani and other speakers reiterated claims that Trump had actually won the election, and that Biden's victory was based on widespread ballot fraud. There has been no evidence to support those claims.

Trump urged the crowd to march on the Capitol and pressure Republican lawmakers to stop the confirmation of Biden's Electoral College victory in several swing states.

Trump by name called on then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to accept the results, even though Pence had no constitutional authority to do so.

"You'll never take back our country with weakness," Trump told his supporters during the speech, where he lied by saying he would march with them to the Capitol.

"You have to show strength, and you have to be strong."

Thousands of his supporters then walked to the Capitol where they surrounded and then broke into the complex, smashing windows, beating and brushing by police, and roaming through the halls.

Five people died as a result of the riot, including a Capitol Police officer who was attacked by Trump supporters, and a woman who was fatally shot by police as she tried to crawl through a window in the Speaker's Lobby near the House chamber.

Senators and House members fled to hide in secure locations as some members of the mob went into congressional offices, stealing items and searching for lawmakers.

Trump failed to immediately send reinforcements to the Capitol as the siege unfolded. Instead, he watched the chaos on TV, according to The Washington Post.

Lawmakers are pushing for a comprehensive investigation into the Capitol riot. On Thursday, House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to look into the role that social media site Parler played in the attack.

Maloney asked the agency to examine Parler as "a potential facilitator of planning and incitement" and as a source of evidence related to the attacks.

Parler went offline after Google and Apple booted it from their app stores, and Amazon Web Services shut off the cloud service that supported its website.