Trump assembles a made-for-TV impeachment defense team

WASHINGTON (AP) - The star power of President Donald Trump’s legal team just went up.

Bringing in experience both in constitutional law and the politics of impeachment, he’s adding retired law professor Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton.

The team will include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow are expected to have lead roles for the defense.

Dershowitz on Friday confirmed his appointment in a tweet.

Trump faces charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress, stemming from his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rivals as he was withholding aid from the country.

Word on the president’s legal team comes as the impeachment trial of Trump has officially opened in the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says new evidence reinforces the need for senators to call additional witnesses. Pelosi warned senators not to become “all the president’s henchmen.”

Trump derided the proceedings anew as a “hoax.”

All the senators stood on Thursday and swore an oath of “impartial justice” as jurors for the historic proceeding.

Chief Justice John Roberts presided in his black Supreme Court robe.

The full trial will begin next week.

Earlier, Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, stood before the senators to read the formal charges against the president.

A close associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is claiming Trump was directly involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Lev Parnas says he delivered an ultimatum in May to the incoming president of Ukraine that no senior U.S. officials would attend his inauguration and vital American security aid would be withheld if an investigation into Biden wasn’t announced.

Parnas says, “President Trump knew exactly what was going on." He also says Attorney General William Barr knew about his efforts in Ukraine.

If true, Parnas’ account undercuts a key Republican defense of Trump during the impeachment investigation.

A Justice Department spokeswoman called such claims “false.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s surrogates are fanning out across the country as part of an aggressive effort to stretch his appeal beyond the base of working-class white voters who propelled him to victory in 2016.

On Thursday alone, there was a “Women for Trump” bus tour through Iowa and a “Black Voices for Trump” organizing effort in Pennsylvania.

Those were complemented by a “Latinos for Trump” event in Florida.

And back in Washington, Trump put the levers of government to work churning out new guidelines on school prayer and religious freedom likely to be popular with the evangelical voters he wants to keep in his corner.

The Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is not the typical trial you might have seen on TV.

The Senate will serve in some ways as both judge and jury. The actual presiding judge is the top one in the country, Chief Justice John Roberts. Witnesses can be questioned not only by the lawyers on both sides by members of the jury. And the presiding judge can be decisively overruled.

At the end of the trial, it would take a two-thirds majority of senators, 67 if all 100 are voting, to convict Trump and remove him from office

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. Gray Media Group, Inc., contributed to this report.