Trump fumes, GOP senators baffled by legal team's debut

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In this image from video, Bruce Castor, an attorney for former President Donald Trump, speaks during the second impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)

WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump fumed that his attorneys’ performance on the opening day of his second impeachment trial was a disaster, as allies and Republican senators questioned the strategy and some called for yet another shakeup to his legal team.

Trump, who was watching the proceedings in Washington from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, was furious at what he saw, according to a person familiar with his thinking. Senators, too, criticized what they described as an unfocused and rambling performance as Trump's team and Democratic House managers began to lay out their cases in front of the Senate jury.

While it remains unlikely that more than a handful of Republicans will join Democrats in convicting the former president at the end of the trial, the proceedings were a chance for Trump to try to repair some of the damage to his legacy incurred over the storming of the Capitol by a mob of his supporters. Trump has been charged with inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, and last month he became the first president in history to be impeached by the House twice.

But Trump's team — which was announced little more than a week ago — appeared unprepared as they attempted a good cop, bad cop routine that veered from flattery to legalese, and stood in dramatic contrast to Democrats' focused emotional appeals.

Trump — ever the showman — was impressed with the Democrats, who opened Tuesday's session with powerful video that compiled scenes of the deadly attack on Congress. And he complained that his team — especially lead lawyer Bruce Castor — came off badly on television and looked weak in comparison, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

The anger was echoed by Trump allies, who blasted the lawyers both publicly and privately and with repeated profanities.

“There is no argument. I have no idea what he's doing. I have no idea why he’s saying what he’s saying,” said Alan Dershowitz, an attorney who represented Trump in his first impeachment trial, as he weighed in on Castor during an appearance on Newsmax as the session was underway.

Peter Navarro, a former Trump trade adviser, had already been urging the former president to ditch his legal team and hire Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz before the trial began, warning: “You gotta get rid of those guys. These people don’t understand. This is a political trial.”