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Karl Evers-Hillstrom: Senators overseeing impeachment trial got campaign cash from Trump legal team members

Some members of President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team are campaign donors to jurors in the Senate. 

Ken Starr (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Former independent counsels Ken Starr and Robert Ray, who investigated then-President Bill Clinton around the time of his impeachment, each made large campaign contributions to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last year before joining Trump’s legal team. 

Starr, who on Monday lambasted what he called the “age of impeachment” before the Senate, gave $2,800 to McConnell in July 2019. Just after House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry in September, Ray gave McConnell $5,600, the maximum allowed for the primary and general elections. OpenSecrets couldn’t identify any other federal contributions from the two during the 2020 cycle. 

Before the impeachment trial started, McConnell said he would work in “total coordination” with the White House on impeachment tactics, prompting backlash from Senate Democrats and one crucial Republican. The Republican-led Senate is expected to acquit Trump on charges that he abused the presidency by withholding aid from Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into his political opponents. Following revelations reportedly uncovered in a manuscript written by former national security adviser John Bolton, some Republicans may join Democrats in calling for witnesses to testify. 

Among Starr’s other political contributions, he gave $2,700 to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in 2017. Graham has emerged as one of Trump’s staunchest allies in the Senate, but he indicated Monday he’s interested in seeing what Bolton wrote in the manuscript. 

Not all of Trump’s legal team members are Republican donors. Alan Dershowitz stands out as a longtime Democratic donor who gave $5,400 to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. But the Harvard professor has emerged as one of Trump’s prominent defenders and even wrote a book arguing against impeaching the president. 

Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal attorneys, gave financial support to several Republican senators over the last two decades, including Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Thune (R-S.D.). Like others on Trump’s team including Ray, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin, Sekulow gave thousands to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign

At one time the de facto leader of the GOP, Romney has emerged as a slight thorn in Trump’s side. The Utah senator on Monday said the Bolton revelations make it more likely a handful of Republicans will vote to include impeachment witnesses. That led to an attack from newly appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) who said her Republican colleague was trying to “appease the left.” The conservative Club for Growth launched attack ads against Romney last year over his criticisms of Trump, and pro-Trump groups are running online ads pressuring Republicans to acquit the president. 

Trump himself is fundraising for senators tasked with coming to a verdict on his impeachment. He launched a joint fundraising committee to raise campaign cash for Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) late last year. Republican senators have reportedly been warned to acquit Trump or face retribution. 

Karl Evers-Hillstrom joined the Center for Responsive Politics in October 2018. As CRP’s money-in-politics reporter, he writes and edits stories for the news section and helps manage a team of diligent writers. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Karl graduated from State University of New York at New Paltz in 2016 with a B.A. in journalism. He previously worked at The Globe, a regional newspaper based in Worthington, Minnesota.

First published in Open Secrets by the Center for Responsive Politics. Included in Vox Populi with permission.

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