Among the fairly unknown team from South Carolina is Butch Bowers, who represents public officials in ethics cases. A first for him, he has to defend the former president in a trial unlike any other.



Attorneys from South Carolina are preparing to defend former President Trump in his second impeachment trial. Their names are most likely not familiar. All are from small firms. So how do they come to represent Trump, and what do they bring to his defense? South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen has this report.

VICTORIA HANSEN, BYLINE: Those who know elections and ethics attorney Butch Bowers call him the go-to guy for the state's Republican politicians and party leaders. He is who former Governor Mark Sanford turned to in 2009 when faced with threats of impeachment for lying about leaving his job to visit his mistress in Argentina. Sanford calls Bowers a skilled attorney who is low-key and measured, unlike Trump's previous counsel, Rudy Giuliani.

MARK SANFORD: He is an incredibly competent person who is sort of the opposite of the bombastic style that you see with Giuliani or some of the other lawyers that have surrounded Trump over the years.

HANSEN: The 55-year-old also defended two other South Carolina governors in ethics cases - Nikki Haley and Henry McMaster. Political consultant Tim Pearson has worked with both. He now shares office space with Bowers in a modest house in the state's Capitol. Pearson calls the Tulane University graduate thoughtful, a straight shooter, someone who relies on facts, again, a stark contrast to the former president's previous counsel.

TIM PEARSON: He's the kind of person that if he was in the president's ear for the last couple years, we probably wouldn't have ended up in this place.

HANSEN: Pearson says, lately, his colleague has gotten a lot of angry calls for agreeing to defend Trump on a charge of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Pearson insists the attorney is just doing his job.

Another attorney who has joined the Trump defense team is former prosecutor Deborah Barbier.

SCARLETT WILSON: She's extremely competent and level-headed, cool under pressure.

HANSEN: Solicitor Scarlett Wilson says she's known Barbier for years. The two conferred on a case involving the 2015 Charleston church massacre. Barbier defended a friend of the gunman who pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities in exchange for testimony about what he knew. Wilson prosecuted the gunman and used that testimony to convict him.

WILSON: She's really good at seeing the big, big picture. And so I think that will come in handy.

HANSEN: We reached out to both Barbier and Bowers. They did not respond. As to how the two relatively low-profile attorneys ended up on Trump's team, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham recommended Bowers for the job. Also, Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, says the former president likely had a tough time finding higher-profile attorneys willing to take the case. And...

STEVE VLADECK: You know, I think the president's strategy has to be different this time around.

HANSEN: ...Vladeck believes Trump won't win by denying responsibility for inciting the attack on the Capitol. He says the defense must contest the constitutionality of the case, giving senators another path to acquittal.

VLADECK: They can vote to acquit in a vote that they can at least plausibly describe as not being about whether they think the president's guilty but whether they think the president ought to be convicted.

HANSEN: That pathway could prove useful for Republican senators who initially condemned the violence but don't want to lose Trump supporters.

For NPR News, I'm Victoria Hansen in South Carolina.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEON NOX AND POWERNERD'S "GETAWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.