Crucial members of Donald Trump’s legal team have allegedly turned their backs on the ex-President just days before his second impeachment trial is due to begin.
According to a bombshell report from CNN, several people “familiar with the case” claim no less than five lawyers from Trump’s defence team have stepped down due to clashes over the former President’s legal strategy.
It’s a major setback for the 74-year-old, who found it a challenge to find lawyers willing to represent him for his second impeachment trial in the first place.
Legal briefs for the Senate trial are due next week, with the trial slated to commence days later, on February 9.
But CNN reports that two lawyers leading the team, Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier, have stepped aside based on a “mutual decision” while fellow legal experts Josh Howard, Johnny Gasser and Greg Harris are also no longer involved.
Mr Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was never on the second impeachment team as he was present during the January 6 riot.
“Due to the fact that I may be a witness, the rules of legal ethics would prohibit me from representing the President as trial counsel in the impeachment trial,” Mr Giuliani told CBS News last month.
A number of high-profile lawyers from Mr Trump’s first impeachment trial are also not involved this time around.
An insider told CNN a major issue was that the former president wanted his team to focus on claims of widespread voter fraud during the November election and allegations the election was stolen from him, instead of the “legality of convicting a president after he’s left office”.
So far, none of the five lawyers in question have commented publicly about the situation.
The news was also reported by Politico, with the publication also publishing a statement from Trump spokesman Jason Miller.
Mr Miller failed to acknowledge the resignations, but took the opportunity to blast the impeachment process as Republicans argue convicting former presidents is unconstitutional.
“The Democrats’ efforts to impeach a president who has already left office is totally unconstitutional and so bad for our country,” Mr Miller said in a statement.
“In fact, 45 Senators have already voted that it is unconstitutional. We have done much work, but have not made a final decision on our legal team, which will be made shortly.”
In December 2019, Donald Trump became the third US President to be impeached after being accused of an abuse of power and obstruction after asking Ukraine to dig dirt on political rival Joe Biden and his son.
He was ultimately cleared – but last month, he became the first President to be impeached twice after being charged with “incitement of insurrection” over the January 6 Washington DC siege.
The riots saw thousands of pro-Trump insurrectionists storm the Capitol and threaten to overthrow democracy.
The Washington siege left five dead and many injured, and was decried as an act of “domestic terrorism” by newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden.
Two-thirds of the Senate will be needed in order to convict Mr Trump, with most experts agreeing it’s a feat that’s unlikely to be pulled off.
But if Mr Trump is convicted, Congress can then work to block him from public office for the rest of his days – which would be a stunning setback given the billionaire has previously told supporters he planned to run again in 2024.