For the Defense: Twisted Facts and Other Staples of the Trump Playbook

Ever since Donald J. Trump began his run for president, he has been surrounded by an ever-shifting cast of lawyers with varying abilities to control, channel and satisfy their mercurial and headstrong client.

During the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, Michael D. Cohen arranged for hush money payments to be made to a former pornographic film actress. In the second year of Mr. Trump’s presidency, John M. Dowd, the head of the team defending the president in the Russia investigation, quit after he concluded that Mr. Trump was refusing to listen to his counsel.

By Mr. Trump’s third year in office, he had found a new lawyer to do his bidding as Rudolph W. Giuliani first undertook a campaign to undermine Joseph R. Biden Jr. and then helped lead the fruitless effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, with stops in Ukraine and at Four Seasons Total Landscaping along the way.

On Friday, the latest members of Mr. Trump’s legal cast took center stage in his impeachment trial and for the most part delivered exactly what he always seems to want from his lawyers: not precise, learned legal arguments but public combat, in this case including twisted facts, rewritten history and attacks on opponents.

Despite an often unorthodox and undisciplined approach from his legal teams, Mr. Trump has survived more legal challenges as president than any of his recent predecessors. Although federal investigators uncovering the hush money payments and significant evidence he may have obstructed the Russia investigation, he was never charged. He was acquitted by the Senate in his first impeachment trial related to the Ukraine pressure campaign, and he appeared poised on Friday to see a similar outcome in this impeachment.

Legal experts, white-collar defense lawyers and even some of Mr. Trump’s former lawyers acknowledge that his survival has largely been a function of the fact that he is the president of the United States, a position that has given him great powers to evade legal consequence.

The Trump Impeachment ›

What You Need to Know

    • A trial is being held to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a deadly mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers into hiding as they met to certify President Biden’s victory.
    • The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to impeach him.
    • To convict Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to be in agreement. This means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to convict.
    • A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with Democrats in beating back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. Only 27 senators say they are undecided about whether to convict Mr. Trump.
    • If the Senate convicts Mr. Trump, finding him guilty of “inciting violence against the government of the United States,” senators could then vote on whether to bar him from holding future office. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it came down to party lines, Democrats would prevail with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.
    • If the Senate does not convict Mr. Trump, the former president could be eligible to run for public office once again. Public opinion surveys show that he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.

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