But some visual aspects of the Senate trial do not give the White House much room for input, particularly details that typically matter to the president. The trial must take place in the Senate chamber with the lighting just as it’s always been. The TV cameras will shoot downward in the same position they held for the Clinton impeachment trial, a senior administration official said. And a yet-to-be-agreed upon set of Senate rules will strictly govern the format.
What’s left for the White House to attempt to mold is the performance of the lawyers representing Trump, as well as the administration’s own response to the televised hearings. In particular, the White House is thinking through the process of putting allies on TV during Senate trial days to ensure the administration’s viewpoint gets airtime. During the House impeachment hearings, the president closely tracked how allies defended him on television and took note of cable ratings.
One White House official said both the president and Democrats are highly attuned to the presentation of the Senate trial. “The entire world is living in a visual age,” the official added, lumping House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in that group.
The president’s defense is expected to be led by Cipollone, Sekulow and Cipollone’s two deputies in the office, Michael Purpura and Patrick Philbin, both alums of the George W. Bush White House. While Sekulow appears on TV quite frequently and is accustomed to sparring with anchors in soundbites, the other three lawyers are not known for their appearances on cable.
Having a TV-minded lawyer generally isn’t considered important in an impeachment trial, said Paul McNulty, a former George W. Bush Justice Department deputy attorney general and former senior GOP aide to the House Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment.
“Lawyers that get involved in these things in Washington, the best way they can proceed and have proceeded is by being very workman like, extremely well prepared and very professional and not getting caught up in the emotion of things but really going about the craft of being a legal representative as best as possible,” he said. “In some ways, that makes things in a trial that’s played out in the media seem anti-climatic. The lawyers aren’t acting like TV actors. They’re acting more like lawyers. It’s more mundane than people expect it.”
A former senior Trump adviser added, “I don’t think he needs a TV lawyer. He needs real lawyers. The same lawyers who will present well in an ordinary courtroom situation will present well in an impeachment trial.”
Micromanaging the look and feel of White House-focused events is not anything new for Trump.