President Donald Trump is receiving conflicting advice on whether to bring conservative House members onto his defense team for the impeachment trial, as White House aides continue to sketch out different strategies for arguing his case in a number of potential Senate scenarios, multiple sources familiar with the discussions said.
Trump has long wanted his trial to feature a theatrical defense aimed at winning him vindication, not just acquittal. Some of his allies and advisers have pushed the White House to include some combination of Republican Reps. Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Mark Meadows, John Ratcliffe and Mike Johnson to the defense team, believing those staunch Trump supporters could deliver the kind of robust defense the President believes he was denied during the House inquiry.
But top Senate Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been advising Trump that bringing on GOP House members could frustrate efforts to keep Republicans as unified as possible during the trial. When Trump and McConnell met Wednesday at the White House, the upcoming trial was one of the subjects raised, CNN reported.
“Repeating the House sideshow in the Senate will turn off the very members the President needs for a unified acquittal,” said one Senate Republican aide.
Other Trump allies, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have suggested Trump consider waiting to name any congressmen to his defense team until House Democrats unveil their managers, who will act as prosecutors in the upcoming trial, and then picking the Republicans who would be most effective against those specific Democrats.
It’s something Republican senators and White House aides have been grappling with for weeks. And the President’s shifting ideas about the trial and what his team’s strategy should be have left some lawmakers confused.
One Republican senator, prior to Christmas, walked colleagues through just how difficult it was to pin Trump down on the issue, telling them that during a conversation one morning it appeared Trump was completely on board with allowing his White House counsel and deputies from the office handle the trial — something several Republican senators had counseled him to consider.
“Then he saw Gaetz on Fox News, got all fired up, and by the afternoon was making clear that he needed his ‘warriors’ on the Senate floor with (White House counsel Pat) Cipollone,” a person with direct knowledge of the conversation told CNN.
CNN previously reported that Jordan, Ratcliffe and Johnson met with Cipollone — who is expected to lead the President’s defense — at the White House just before Christmas, and the President spent much of his two-week working vacation at Mar-a-Lago polling friends and advisers about who would do the best job representing him at the trial.