Butch Bowers is used to defending US officials in ethics cases. But he's never faced anything quite like this.
It's up to Bowers, a South Carolina elections and ethics lawyer, to rise and defend Donald Trump as the Senate soon plunges into an impeachment trial unlike any other, centred on accusations that the former president incited the mob that rampaged through the US Capitol on January 6.
For Trump, the first president twice impeached, the stakes are enormous: if convicted, he could be barred from holding public office again, ending any hopes of mounting another White House bid in 2024.
Trump turned to Bowers, a familiar figure in Republican legal circles, after other legal allies passed on the case. That's a notable departure from his first impeachment trial in 2020, when he had a stable of prominent attorneys — including Alan Dershowitz, Jay Sekulow, who represented him in the Russia investigation, and Kenneth Starr — standing in his corner.
The first impeachment trial turned on charges that Trump improperly solicited Ukraine's help for his reelection campaign. The Senate acquitted him of those charges.
The new trial could hinge on broader issues of law, including "whether the Constitution even allows a post-impeachment action in the Senate", said Sekulow, who is not participating in Trump's legal defence.
Sekulow said he did not expect Bowers, who has years of experience representing elected officials and political candidates — including former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford against a failed impeachment effort that morphed into an ethics probe — to be hindered by having never defended a current or former president in a Senate trial.
"He's an excellent lawyer with a tremendous reputation who understands the law and politics," Sekulow said today.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham recommended Bowers to Trump and told Fox News he sees him as the "anchor tenant" of Trump's team. Trump adviser Jason Miller, who also ran Sanford's gubernatorial and congressional campaigns, said Bowers "will do an excellent job defending President Trump".
Bowers did not respond to a message seeking comment.
His strategy for Trump's defence is unclear, though questioning the validity of the trial is a clear option. Many Republicans in the Senate — the jurors he'll need to persuade — have said they harbour doubts about whether an impeachment trial for an ex-official is constitutional, even though it has happened before.
The nine House managers prosecuting the case, meanwhile, will almost certainly focus on linking Trump's remarks to supporters at a rally before the riot — including encouraging them to "fight like hell" — to the chaos that soon followed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will transmit the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday, triggering the first phase of the trial.
Opening arguments will begin the week of February 8. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the schedule today after reaching an agreement with Republicans, who had pushed to delay the trial to give Trump a chance to organise his legal team and prepare a defence.
Joel Sawyer, Sanford's longtime spokesman, said Bowers' strengths lie in his calm demeanour and determination to examine legal arguments without concern for pomp and politics.
"If Donald Trump lets Butch be Butch and doesn't try to make him be someone he's not, in terms of making nutty legal arguments and seeking out television cameras, this will be a great fit for Butch," Sawyer said.
"If Trump wants him to be Rudy Giuliani or Sidney Powell 2.0, that's not going to turn out well for anyone."
State Senator Dick Harpootlian, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman and longtime friend of President Joe Biden who has several times faced Bowers in court, said he expected the "understated" Bowers to make decisions in the case based not on personality, which Harpootlian said was in contrast to Trump's past lawyers.
"Trump won't be able to make Butch someone that he's not," Harpootlian said.