Criminal defense attorney David Schoen is preparing for the highest profile case in a 30-plus years career that has seen him defend numerous high-profile clients and others lesser known but no less important.
Beginning Feb. 9, the Atlanta resident and Orthodox Jew will be one of two attorneys representing former President Donald J. Trump in his impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate.
Trump was impeached Jan. 13 by the House on a charge of inciting insurrection, stemming from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a mob that earlier that day had attended a rally at which Trump spoke.
Schoen, who maintains offices in Alabama and New York, feels honored to represent the 45th president but he is less happy about the circumstances. “I am deeply disappointed this impeachment proceeding is going forward and especially at a time like this, when the country is so polarized and the impeachment process has become so politicized,” he told the AJT.
At the rally on The Ellipse, Trump repeated his claim that re-election was “stolen” from him. “We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he told an audience estimated to number 30,000 or more. Trump’s defenders stress that he also said, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Pitched battles between protesters and police inside and outside disrupted and delayed for several hours the Congress ratifying the Electoral College vote that made Joe Biden the 46th president. Members of Congress and their staffs were forced into hiding. Five people, including two Capitol Hill police officers, died in the riot. Congressional offices and the Capitol Rotunda were vandalized.
Conviction in the impeachment trial requires a vote by two-thirds of the senators present. If convicted, a second vote, to bar Trump from again holding public office, would require only a majority of the senators present.
Schoen and Bruce L. Castor, Jr., a former Montgomery County, Pa. district attorney, became Trump’s attorneys after a team of five attorneys withdrew Jan. 30. That split was said to have been a mutual decision, though there were reports of differences in how the defense would be conducted and its expense.
Trump reportedly wanted his previous attorneys to base their case on his claims of voting fraud, rather than the constitutional issue of whether a president can be convicted after leaving office. Schoen has said that Trump has not pressured him to focus the case on voter fraud.
In an 80-page brief, the House impeachment managers said that Trump was “singularly responsible” for the events of Jan. 6, having created a “frenzy” among his supporters.
In their 14-page response, Schoen and Castor argued that the trial itself is unconstitutional and that Trump’s speech at the rally was protected by the First Amendment. “I believe it is completely unconstitutional to conduct an impeachment trial for a former government official, now a private citizen,” Schoen told the AJT.
Just days before the start of the trial, “I see absolutely nothing good coming of it for anyone,” Schoen told the AJT. “It certainly is not really about ascertaining facts or they would actually have conducted an investigation before rising to judgment in the House. Now more and more evidence appears to be coming out showing pre-planning of the riot and making it clear that it was not incited by former President Trump’s speech.”
When writing about Schoen, the national press has focused on his previous clients, among them Trump friend Roger Stone, and on Schoen’s having met with Jeffrey Epstein days before the accused sex offender was found dead in his New York City jail cell.
The Jewish press has taken note that Schoen is an Orthodox Jew who worships at Congregation Beth Jacob and Congregation Ohr HaTorah.
In 2018, Schoen gave the AJT this self-description: “On many social and domestic issues, I am characterized as being on the left; on issues involving Israel, I am characterized as being on the right. My position on all issues is based on principles that I can defend using my understanding of the Constitution.”
The 62-year-old Schoen holds a master of law degree from Columbia University and a juris doctorate from Boston College, and serves as chair of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee of the Civil Rights Litigation Committee.
Schoen was honored in 1995 by the ABA for his pro bono work in civil rights cases, primarily in the South. He also has represented the families of terrorism victims in litigation against the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In September, Schoen told the AJT’s Marcia Caller Jaffe: “I represented all sorts of reputed mobster figures: alleged head of Russian mafia in this country, Israeli mafia and two Italian bosses, as well as a guy the government claimed was the biggest mafioso in the world.”