people falsely accused in Me Too cases where their reputations were ruined"". File picture: Matt Rourke/AP
people falsely accused in Me Too cases where their reputations were ruined"". File picture: Matt Rourke/AP

Bruce Castor is a magnet for controversy. Naturally, he's Trump's impeachment attorney

By The Washington Post Time of article published Feb 9, 2021

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Karen Heller

"I don't think the case is particularly complicated," said Bruce Castor Jr on Thursday, while driving his Corvette back to his suburban Philadelphia home after being inside the US Capitol for the first time in 15 years.

Castor is defending Donald Trump at his second impeachment trial,scheduled to begin Tuesday, where the former president stands accused of inciting the January 6 riot at the Capitol. The attorney was given little more than a week to prepare - during a pandemic.

For the first eight years of the millennium, Bruce Castor was the local evening news here, at 6, 10 and 11. Tall, telegenic, in bold pinstripes that skewed a tad too Dick Tracy but popped on camera, not to mention cowboy boots (curious, those, in the affluent Pennsylvania suburbs), he was the pol at the mic, the swaggering prosecutor cleaning up crimes that the public never tired of following: Mayhem on the Main Line. In one year alone, he racked up five first-degree murder convictions.

Castor's career since he left the Montgomery County, Pa., district attorney's office has been something else entirely: fractious, circuitous, novel-worthy - and rarely boring. Castor does not do boring. He became famous nationally for what he didn't do: prosecute Bill Cosby in 2005, when Andrea Constand accused the television icon of sexual assault.

After Trump's original legal team abruptly exited,Castor, 59, was tapped along with Atlanta-based criminal defence and civil rights lawyer David Schoen, who defended former Trump adviser Roger Stone and consulted with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein days before his death.

For those who have followed Castor's long career, the reaction was either incredulous head-shaking, or "Why, of course, Bruce." Like his latest client, Castor is loquacious, polarizing, charming to many, equipped with a bountiful ego, sensitive to slights and almost humanly incapable of not making news.

Castor joined his latest law firm in January, his third in 13 years, weeks before landing the highest-profile case of his 35-year career. He specializes in medical malpractice, personal injury and "people falsely accused in Me Too cases where their reputations were ruined," Castor said.

A lifelong Republican, Castor has never met his new client in person. "I don't have the time to fly to Florida," he said.They first spoke last month. Friends and associates said Castor rarely, if ever, discussed Trump when he was in the White House. His interests lie in the machinations of local and state politics. He did, however, vote for Trump.

"He's the nicest guy in the world," Castor said of their phone calls. "I don't understand what people say about him. It's beyond me. My interactions with him have been delightful. He's a charming fellow."

Yet, he added, "the funny thing is that I thought I had the job January 17," after a member of Trump's or bit - Castor wouldn't say who - suggested him. His cousin Stephen Castor, a House Republican staff attorney who worked on Trump's first impeachment, then "served as a conduit," Castor said, and asked if he was interested.

Why, he most certainly was.

But he quickly learned that a team of South Carolina lawyers had landed the job. Then on the night of Saturday, Jan. 30, Castor saw the news reports that the group had exited. Within minutes, his cellphone chirped, and he got the offer.

He answered with an emphatic yes. Though, "I would have liked the extra two weeks of preparation time," Castor told The Washington Post.

Instead, he had 21/2 days, while subsisting on ginger ale and Slim Jims, to draft the response to the Democratic House managers' impeachment brief, to rebut its claim that Trump was "singularly responsible" for the storming of the Capitol, "a betrayal of historic proportions."

The House managers' argument is "a three-legged stool with one leg missing," Castor said. "I'm enormously proud of that response. I thought it was really good." The 14-page answer, which bears Castor's signature, garnered immediate attention because of an error in its opening line, "Members of the Unites States Senate," the sort of typo that became an unintended specialty of Trump's legal election challenges.

The response addresses the constitutionality of removing a former president and his First Amendment right "to express his belief that the election results were suspect."

The document also includes some of Trump's election-fraud claims, which have been resoundingly rejected in more than 50 court cases. Castor said he was only responding to the House managers' allegations and reiterated Schoen's statement that they do not plan to argue the fraud issue during the trial this week.

"The president and the guys around him had plenty of opportunity to pressure me into using an election-fraud defense," Castor said. That didn't happen. "The case is a winner. Why would I inject a problem?"

The centrepiece of the case, he said, is that Trump cannot be removed from office because he has already left it. "If you take the Democrats' argument to its logical conclusion, you could be dead and you could still be impeached," Castor said. "You could impeach Abraham Lincoln or George Washington or Bill Clinton, anyone. The Senate could be doing this from now until the end of time."

The House brief argues that "the text and structure of the Constitution, as well as its original meaning and prior interpretations by Congress, overwhelmingly demonstrate that a former official remains subject to trial and conviction."

Schoen will handle these Senate jurisdiction issues, while Castor will be responsible for "the overall presentation and strategy," he said. "I will be asking the bulk of the questions."

Last week, Trump rejected the request to appear at his impeachment trial. "That's an old prosecutor's trick. When you don't have a good case, you get the defendant to testify," Castor said. "The president will not be testifying."

During Trump's first impeachment trial in January 2020, his sizable defence team included White House counsel Pat Cipollone, former Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr and Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz. For his second impeachment trial, the slate is a bit different:Castor, Schoen, who is a solo practitioner, plus Castor's new partner Michael van der Veen and members of the eight-lawyer Philadelphia firm, which specializes in criminal defence and personal injury. Castor and Schoen were scheduled to meet in person for the first time on Sunday.

"I'm not Ken Starr or Alan Dershowitz. You're not going to get a law professor's explanation," Castor said. "I'm a guy who gets up in court and talks."

Trump's attorneys will face nine House managers, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a constitutional scholar, and backed by formidable talent, including House Judiciary staff attorneys, acclaimed trial lawyer Barry Berke and the powerhouse firm Debevoise & Plimpton. On Friday, 144 constitutional law scholars circulated a letter that contends that the First Amendment "does not apply in impeachment proceedings," and that Trump's speech and conduct on Jan. 6 "constitute unprotected incitement" to his supporters to engage in violence and other lawless acts.

"I know it looks like David and Goliath,"Castor said. "But you can stack the deck as much as you want on the other side - that still does not connect Donald Trump to the activities of the mob on January 6."

He isn't worried about being outnumbered or outstaffed. "Just the opposite," he said. "They'll be tripping over each other."

The Castors have been in Pennsylvania since 1732. Castor Avenue, which runs through part of Northeast Philadelphia, is named after his family. Bruce Castor Sr. practiced for nearly a half-century at Ballard Spahr, one of Philadelphia's most prestigious firms, where he worked in family wealth management.

His son, a graduate of Lafayette College and Washington and Lee Law School, spent more than a dozen years in the Montgomery County district attorney's office before being elected to two terms as the top prosecutor. The county is Pennsylvania's third-most populous and second wealthiest. Once a cradle of Republican politics, it has become insistently blue. One of its newest political stars, Rep. Madeleine Dean, is among the House Democratic managers who will oppose Castor in the Senate trial.

Castor was often viewed as being too big for the big county. In 2004, he campaigned for state attorney general and narrowly lost in the primary. Eight years later, he flirted with a run for the governorship against Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, the man who had beaten him.

Castor's greatest political battles have often been with fellow Republicans. In 2008, he ran for Montgomery County's three-member Board of Commissioners. Castor collected the most votes, only to lose power completely. Fellow Republican Jim Matthews, brother of former MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews, said at the time that Castor's ego was so big "it could float the Titanic" and formed an alliance with Democrat Joe Hoeffel, freezing Castor out like a pair of middle-schoolers in a cafeteria. As a rebuke, Castor hung his commissioner's certificate in his office bathroom next to the toilet.

Castor ran for commissioner again, won and served with two Democrats, Leslie Richards and Josh Shapiro, who is now Pennsylvania's attorney general. They all got along beautifully. Castor voted for Shapiro in his latest race and constantly praises him - which only increased the enmity of some fellow Republicans. In an email to The Post, Joe Gale, his GOP successor as county commissioner, blasted Castor as Shapiro's "longtime lap dog" and "a has-been politician."

In 2015, Castor tried to return to the DA's office. His former first assistant, Kevin Steele, switched parties and ran as a Democrat against him, airing blistering ads excoriating Castor for not prosecuting Cosby a decade earlier.

A week before the election, Constand sued Castor, alleging he defamed her in several news interviews and made her "collateral damage for his political ambitions." The case was eventually settled.

Steele won. Castor subsequently sued Constand and her lawyers, arguing that they had filed the case before the election to "destroy his political and legal career." A judge later dismissed that case.

After Steele chose to prosecute Cosby, a journalist appeared at Castor's house for comment when he wasn't there. "This reporter will never know the danger he was in," Castor wrote on his Facebook account, while noting the presence in his house of "Mr. Ruger," a reference presumably to his gun.

Steele successfully prosecuted Cosby in a 2018 trial in which the defense called Castor as a witness. Castor said that there had been a lack of evidence to prosecute, and that he had made the determination also so Cosby couldn't plead the Fifth Amendment in any civil case brought by Constand, which she filed in 2005.

Documents from that case, which later became public and include Cosby's explosive deposition, helped bolster the county's criminal case. Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Constand and is serving a three- to 10-year prison sentence.

Last week,Castor stood by his decision. "There's wasn't anything to prosecute," he said."I have nothing to regret."

Between his loss in the DA's race and the Cosby trial, Castor served as solicitor general for Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane, about whom volumes could be written, "embattled" permanently affixed to her name. During her tenure, Kane was stripped of her law license, convicted on counts of perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and forced to resign.

It was at that moment, in August 2016, that Castor realized his long-held dream of being Pennsylvania's top prosecutor.

For two weeks.

"I doubt that there's anybody in all of Pennsylvania that has more experience and brings more knowledge to the game than me," Castor said at the time. But Gov. Tom Wolf nominated fellow Democrat Bruce Beemer to complete Kane's term. The GOP-controlled Pennsylvania Senate convened during summer recess to unanimously sign off.

Five years later, Castor is in the largest arena of his career and back before the cameras. Regional political advisers said there is little downside in his taking the case, with more than enough Republican senators signaling they will vote to acquit Trump.

"Bruce starts on the 12-yard line. He can't lose unless there's more stunning information to come out," said Larry Ceisler, a public affairs consultant and longtime observer of Pennsylvania politics. "I doubt it hurts his practice. There's no downside." He could pick up clients and television commentator deals and be back before those cameras.

Perpetually confident Castor conceded there is no idealized scenario. "I could say something that pisses the Democrats off and, all of a sudden, we're going down the wrong road," Castor said.

In 2022, Pennsylvania has an open governor's race and Senate seat. Would the publicity from an impeachment trial help reignite his political career? "Not interested. I don't like all those hours away from my family," said Castor, who has been married for more than three decades and has two grown children. "I've got a new job. They're paying me a lot of money."

At the start of this new year, only six weeks ago, Castor's life was something else entirely. "I had retired to the quiet life as a Philadelphia trial lawyer," he said.

Castor thinks the trial "will move fast unless we get bogged down with everyone wanting to ask questions," he said. Unlike members of Congress, "we're not fighting for airtime. There's no incentive for me to grandstand."

His mission, he said, is clear: "I need to address the job at hand, get it done and go home."

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