PHILADELPHIA — The suburbs here played a leading role in Donald Trump’s defeat. Now, the former president is counting on a longtime elected official from the biggest among them — Montgomery County — to defend him in his second impeachment trial.
The news that Bruce Castor, a former Montgomery County commissioner and district attorney, is representing Trump set ablaze Pennsylvania’s political world — and nowhere more than in the suburban giant that delivered a landslide margin against Trump in 2020. As a result, Trump’s campaign sued the county afterward, claiming it improperly counted mail-in ballots.
Trump announced Sunday that Castor, who also served briefly as Pennsylvania’s acting attorney general, is leading his legal team along with lawyer David Schoen during his upcoming trial. The Senate could use impeachment to bar Trump from ever serving in federal office again.
The development immediately touched off questions over whether Castor was brought onboard precisely because of his prior job as a county commissioner in one of the places where Trump was most obsessed with baseless claims of election fraud. It also surprised many insiders who saw Castor as a moderate Republican who often reached across the aisle, leading to speculation that he might be repositioning himself to run for Senate or governor in 2022.
“I was shocked. Bruce has been in private practice,” said Ken Lawrence, a Democratic Montgomery County commissioner. “Bruce was a law-and-order, middle-of-the-road conservative Republican.”
Those who know Castor said the former prosecutor might have been drawn to the gig for a reason other than interest in higher office: his well-known love for the cameras. As an aggressive district attorney with a big personality in the 2000s, he frequently appeared on television while pursuing high-profile homicide cases that garnered the attention of the news media.
“Prosecutors like the limelight,” said Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia-based public relations executive who has known Castor for decades. “My guess is he probably misses it to a certain degree. It’s an interesting challenge. Barring anything bizarre happening, he should be able to win the case."
Castor has said that Trump’s camp contacted him about the job, according to a person who has spoken with the former D.A. recently. A Trump aide did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump’s campaign previously sued Montgomery County’s Board of Elections over its decision to count certain mail-in ballots. The former president homed in on the region — and the city of Philadelphia, in particular — during his efforts to undermine the election results.
In a statement, Castor said: “I consider it a privilege to represent the 45th President. The strength of our Constitution is about to be tested like never before in our history. It is strong and resilient. A document written for the ages, and it will triumph over partisanship yet again, and always.”
It is unclear whether Castor will amplify Trump’s fraud accusations during the Senate trial. Trump’s office said Castor and Schoen were “bringing national profiles and significant trial experience in high-profile cases to the effort.”
In Pennsylvania, Castor was long known as a colorful politician who at times fought with his own party, particularly after a fellow Republican county commissioner sidelined him to co-lead with a Democrat. When Democrat Josh Shapiro took the helm of the Board of Commissioners, Castor praised his Democratic colleagues and said he was “extremely proud of them.”
Castor’s reputation sank when he testified in 2016 about his 2005 decision to not criminally prosecute Bill Cosby, who was later found guilty of sexual assault.
Castor’s decision to represent the former president was seen in some circles as another sign of the Pennsylvania GOP’s move to the right in recent years. Once a state known for electing moderate Republicans such as Arlen Specter to the Senate and Dick Thornburgh as governor, it is now one whose state party has tied itself closely to Trump.
If Castor runs for the open seat for Senate or governor next year, Republican operatives said that a starring role in Trump’s impeachment trial could help him win over the party’s base. Castor previously ran for attorney general and eyed a run for governor.
“Since the America First movement isn’t going anywhere, it’s politically savvy for Bruce Castor, Jr. to stand with President Trump during this unconstitutional impeachment,” said Greg Manz, a former Pennsylvania Republican Party spokesperson who worked on Trump’s campaign in 2016 and 2020. “Especially if he has future ambitions for elected office in Pennsylvania.”
Castor did not respond to a request for comment on several questions, including whether he is interested in higher office.
In Castor’s backyard, elected officials on both the left and right were unhappy with the news that he is heading Trump’s legal team.
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, a vocal supporter of Trump, said he is “disappointed” that the former president hired Castor, whom he called “a longtime lapdog” of Shapiro, who is now Pennsylvania’s attorney general.
“In the four years that Castor served on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners with Shapiro, he was nothing more than a GOP rubber-stamp for the Democrat agenda,” Gale said of Castor. “Frankly, President Trump should represent himself or skip this kangaroo court impeachment hearing altogether and dare 17 hack Republican senators to convict him of these bogus charges.”
Lawrence, the Democratic county commissioner, said: “Bruce understands how elections operate at the county level because we run the county. So I would hope that that would not be part of the defense … that somehow this was a stolen election.”
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