Gladiators of Impeachment: How 2 Lawyers Got the Case

WASHINGTON — On the day in June 2018 that President Trump declared he had the “absolute right” to pardon himself, Daniel S. Goldman met Representative Adam B. Schiff in a classic Washington way: They struck up a conversation in the green room at MSNBC.

The men, both Democrats, had plenty to talk about. Both former federal prosecutors, Mr. Schiff had a deep interest in Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia, while Mr. Goldman had investigated Russian organized crime. He told Mr. Schiff to call him if he could be of use. When Democrats won the House and Mr. Schiff became chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he did, inviting Mr. Goldman to join his staff as the chief investigator.

Now Mr. Goldman is the lead author of a report, a draft of which committee members will be able to review in private starting Monday evening, that forms the backbone of Democrats’ case for impeaching Mr. Trump. He is one of two unelected officials — the other is Stephen R. Castor, his Republican counterpart, who compiled the dissenting views — who have taken a crucial and unusually public job in the debate over the future of Mr. Trump’s presidency, and the nation.

The pair achieved a measure of Washington stardom over two weeks last month as they grilled witnesses during nationally televised public hearings. The House Judiciary Committee this week begins public hearings to consider articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump, meaning Mr. Goldman will probably take the spotlight again to present the Democrats’ case that the president abused his power by trying to enlist Ukraine to dig up damaging information on his political rivals, and it will fall to Mr. Castor to counter it.

The two could not be any more different. Mr. Goldman, 43, an heir to the Levi Strauss clothing fortune, was biding his time as a legal analyst on cable television, contemplating his next career move, when he met Mr. Schiff. A Yale- and Stanford-educated lawyer, he grew up in a world of Washington elites and made headlines as a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York by putting mobsters behind bars.

“He has a confidence and a certain swagger,” said Brooke Cucinella, who took him on as her partner in a case against the Las Vegas sports gambler William T. Walters on charges of insider trading.

Mr. Castor, 46, has spent more than a decade toiling away in relative obscurity on a wide range of House-run investigations for the Oversight and Reform Committee, including the inquiry into the Obama administration’s handling of the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. That episode culminated in a tense, daylong hearing in which Republicans hammered Hillary Clinton, who had been secretary of state at the time of the assault. But while Mr. Goldman is at ease in front of cameras, the spotlight is not Mr. Castor’s favorite place.

“He’s about as shy and introverted as anyone you’re ever going to find, but he has an ability to gain a great deal of respect,” said Darrell Issa, who was Mr. Castor’s boss when he led the House Oversight Committee. “He’s talented, he’s self-effacing and he does his homework, which is why you’re seeing him ask questions but not grab the limelight.”

And Mr. Castor is nothing if not meticulous, even in his hobbies. He is an ardent fan of both the Grateful Dead (he went to all three farewell concerts in Chicago) and his hometown baseball team, the Philadelphia Phillies, so much that he makes the drive from Washington, D.C., to see home games on a regular basis. He “chronicles every Dead show set list on his phone,” said a close friend, Chris Schell, and “brings his pencils, sharpened in his pocket, and scorer’s sheet” to keep score of every baseball game he sees.

Both men have found that Washington stardom comes with a price.

Mr. Goldman has become a target for conservatives who have mined his Twitter feed for disparaging remarks about Mr. Trump — and found no shortage of material. He has called Mr. Trump “a criminal” and compared him unfavorably to mob bosses, who he wrote were “smarter and way more savvy” than the president.

Mr. Trump, in turn, has suggested that Mr. Goldman is little more than a pundit, telling reporters during a news conference last month, “I see they’re using lawyers that are television lawyers — they took some guys off television.”

Mr. Castor has drawn derision from liberals on Twitter, who have skewered his slumping posture and perennially furrowed brows. “Steve Castor is not going to like the SNL version of himself,” wrote Matthew Miller, an MSNBC legal analyst, on Twitter.

Mr. Goldman’s prosecutorial performance drew grudging respect even from Republicans who privately conceded he was effective during the hearings, while Mr. Castor drew his share of criticism. Some rank-and-file Republican lawmakers and officials watched his performance during the impeachment hearings with dismay, worried that Mr. Castor seemed outmatched and flat-footed facing a series of witnesses who came ready to offer damning accounts of the president’s conduct.

Mr. Castor’s boss, Representative Jim Jordan, defended him even as he acknowledged that Mr. Castor was probably not eager to play a public role.

“We just told Steve, prepare like you did for the depositions,” Mr. Jordan said. “He maybe preferred not to be front and center, but he handled it so well, because that was his job.”

Of the two, legal experts say, Mr. Goldman had the easier job: weaving together a narrative explaining how Mr. Trump used the powers of the presidency to try to enlist Ukraine’s help to gain an advantage in the 2020 election.

Day by day, his questioning laid out in vivid detail how Mr. Trump pressed President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce he was investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats, while withholding both a White House meeting and military aid for Kyiv, in what Democrats call an attempted bribery or extortion scheme.

Mr. Goldman’s allies say he made his mark on the very first day, in a stark exchange with William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, that set the tone for the rest of the hearings by establishing that the president’s behavior was, at the very least, highly unusual.

“Have you ever seen another example of foreign aid conditioned on the personal or political interests of the president of the United States?” Mr. Goldman asked.

“No, Mr. Goldman, I have not,” Mr. Taylor replied.

Murray Richman, a veteran defense lawyer in the Bronx (he is known as “Don’t Worry Murray”) who represented some of the Mafia defendants Mr. Goldman prosecuted, said his conduct in the impeachment hearings reflects his prosecutor’s training.

“They’re trained to be straight,” Mr. Richman said, “and that’s what you’re getting from him.”

Mr. Castor’s task was to sow doubt about Mr. Trump’s intentions — a job he accomplished by hammering away at the idea that in the end, Ukraine got its military aid while the investigations Mr. Trump sought, of Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter, and into an unproven claim that Ukraine conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 election — never took place.

But even Mr. Castor’s allies concede that he has made unforced errors, including when he was cross-examining Fiona Hill, Mr. Trump’s former top adviser on Europe and Russia, about the work Gordon S. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, and other allies of Mr. Trump were doing to press Ukraine to announce the investigations the president wanted.

“He was being involved in a domestic political errand,” Dr. Hill asserted.

It was one of the resonant phrases of the impeachment inquiry so far, a moment akin to when John Dean, the White House counsel, said during the Watergate hearings that there was a “cancer on the presidency” of Richard M. Nixon.

Steady and industrious — he exercises seven days a week and worked a 40-hour-a-week job at a hoagie shop while going to high school — Mr. Castor, the son of a physicist and a homemaker, cuts a low-key figure in an increasingly partisan and social media-driven political world.

“Steve was my kind of guy,” said former Representative Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia, a centrist and former Oversight Committee chairman who first hired Mr. Castor in 2005. “He was understated, he was thorough, he didn’t particularly have an ideological edge to him.”

Like Mr. Castor, Mr. Goldman led the lengthy closed-door depositions of the diplomats and civil servants who later testified in open session. He helped Mr. Schiff get on the Ukraine affair early, by starting an investigation before the public knew of the whistle-blower complaint that sparked the inquiry. When committee members discussed who should take the lead in the public questioning, Mr. Schiff said, they all agreed it should be Mr. Goldman — even if that meant giving up their own precious time in the spotlight.

“There wasn’t a whisper of dissent,” the congressman said.

Mr. Goldman, a son and grandson of civic-minded lawyers and philanthropists, grew up in rarefied circles in Washington. He attended the elite Sidwell Friends School, which has educated the children of presidents including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and his mother led the board.

“It was a Beltway experience,” said a close family friend, David Kendall, who represented Mr. Clinton during his impeachment.

But it was not a life without hardship. Mr. Goldman’s father died when he was in middle school, and two years ago, his brother and young niece were killed in a plane crash — an experience that those close to him say left Mr. Goldman, a father of five who commutes back and forth to New York, where his family lives, thinking about his place in the world.

“If you look at his family, it’s a family that deeply, historically, believes in justice, fairness, equality, truth and the American legal system,” said Ben Reiter, Mr. Goldman’s brother-in-law and a senior writer for Sports Illustrated.

In working for Mr. Schiff, he said, Mr. Goldman saw “an opportunity to reassert some of these things.”

Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

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