A primer on Pa.’s Bruce Castor, who Trump tapped to co-lead his impeachment defense

Bruce Castor

Bruce Castor, former district attorney for Montgomery County. (Matt Rourke/AP, file)

Ahead of his second impeachment trial next week, former President Donald Trump has tapped Bruce Castor, an attorney with a long, fractious history in Pennsylvania politics, to co-lead his defense team against charges of incitement of insurrection.

Throughout his career, Castor has shown a knack for finding the limelight, and a tendency to fill in for disgraced public officials.

Castor, a Republican, is a former Montgomery County district attorney and county commissioner who once pledged not to prosecute Bill Cosby with sexual assault, and had a brief — but colorful — stint as state attorney general after AG Kathleen Kane was convicted of multiple felonies.

He and Alabama defense lawyer David Schoen are taking over Trump’s legal team after the previous, five-member team abruptly resigned, apparently over strategic disagreements.

Here are four key things to know about Castor and how he aligns with Trump.

1. Decades of political experience in Montgomery County

Castor was the top prosecutor in Montgomery County from 2000 to 2008.

During that time, he frequently made headlines and TV appearances, sometimes leaning into the salacious details of a crime or inserting himself into a story. He described the sex toys found with a murdered Canadian adult film star for Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. He sued to oust an Upper Merion school board member for a criminal conviction that had occurred 17 years prior.

After two terms, Castor ran for county commissioner. His stint in that role was fraught, by all accounts.

“Bruce feuded with Jim Matthews, his fellow Republican,” said Joe Hoeffel, former Democratic commissioner who served alongside Castor. Due to that feud, Hoeffel and Matthews teamed up to work together, and effectively ice out Castor from having any influence.

“Bruce never got over it and just spent the next four years just opposing everything we did, trying to blow up and challenge the motives of every policy we pursued,” said Hoeffel. “It’s the way Donald Trump tried to govern.”

Relations on the commission improved after Hoeffel and Matthews were replaced by Democrats Josh Shapiro, now attorney general, and Leslie Richards, now the general manager of SEPTA.

After seven years on the commission, Castor announced in 2015 he would seek his old job back: district attorney. But one case from his first tenure resurfaced to haunt him.

2. Castor declined to prosecute Bill Cosby, then became key witness in eventual trial

Castor was Monto’s DA in 2005, when Andrea Constand came forward with allegations that comedian Bill Cosby had sexually assaulted her the previous year in his suburban home.

In lieu of prosecuting, Castor put out a press release saying he would not press charges. In that statement, he cited “insufficient, credible, and admissible evidence” as the reason he believed a conviction would be “unattainable,” and encouraged Constand to file a civil suit.

A decade later, that document became a centerpiece of the 2015 Montgomery County district attorney’s race.

Castor, hoping to reclaim his old seat, ran as a Republican against Democrat Kevin Steele, who was then the first assistant district attorney to Risa Vetri Ferman. Steele ran ads slamming Castor for failing to prosecute Cosby when he had the chance — and won.

Bill Cosby arrives for his sentencing hearing
Bill Cosby arrives for his sentencing hearing at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

In the two criminal prosecutions of Cosby that followed, Castor’s decision not to press charges made him a key witness. On the stand, he said he made a binding promise to Cosby and his attorney at the time not to prosecute, so that the entertainer would feel comfortable testifying in a civil suit.

During trial, Castor explained his decision in monarchical terms. “I am the sovereign of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. As the sovereign, I determined we would not prosecute Mr. Cosby, and that would then set off a chain of events that I thought would gain some justice for Ms. Andrea Constand,” he testified.

Castor did not produce any documents showing such an agreement existed, save for his public press release. In the civil deposition Cosby gave after his deal with Castor, he admitted to giving women drugs before having sex with them, which became a key piece of evidence in the criminal trial Steele oversaw.

When a reporter came to Castor’s house seeking comment on the trial, Castor took to Facebook to warn that his wife, who was home alone at the time, was armed with “Mr. Ruger” and “well-trained to protect herself and our family.”

Whether Cosby should have been prosecuted in light of Castor’s promise is one issue the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear on appeal.

3. A man of thwarted political ambitions

Hoeffel, who served with Castor as a Montgomery County commissioner, describes him as a fundamentally competent man with a penchant for theatrics.

“I think he enjoys the limelight, which is OK. I think he’s politically ambitious, which is also OK,” Hoeffel said. “But I think he, perhaps, loves to get involved in controversial cases and so forth … I think it gets him into some bad situations.”

Those situations — from his Cosby testimony to his eternal sparring with fellow commissioners — have often appeared to keep Castor from the positions in higher office he long sought.

He began his career in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office in 1985, serving as assistant DA, then winning an election to top prosecutor in 2000. His early career was flashy — one year, he won five first-degree murder convictions — and it fed into a reputation as a Republican rising star.

In 2004, Castor ran for attorney general, seeing the office as a springboard to a potential governorship down the road. It turned out to be just that, but not for him.

Castor failed to capture party endorsements in most of the commonwealth during the Republican primary, and badly underperformed everywhere but the southeast. He lost the acrimonious, party-dividing primary to Tom Corbett, who went on to win a single term as governor in 2010.

So instead of going to Harrisburg, Castor stayed in Montgomery County and became a commissioner, spending the next eight years warring with his fellow board members.

The opportunity for higher office didn’t present itself again until 2016 — and then, for just two fleeting weeks.

4. He had a short — very short — tenure as attorney general

In March of 2016, the political career of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane was in a death spiral.

She was facing felony charges for perjury, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, and the state Supreme Court had rescinded her law license pending the outcome of her case. That left the office in uncharted territory, with a top prosecutor who was unable to legally practice.

That’s when Bruce Castor came on the scene.

Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane arrives at Montgomery County courthouse
Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane arrives at Montgomery County courthouse for her sentencing hearing in Norristown, Pa., Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Kane, a Democrat, hand-picked the Republican to be solicitor general — essentially, her second-in-command. His job, PennLive reported at the time, was a strange one: he would make the legal decisions Kane was now barred from making, but was not allowed to follow any news about her criminal charges.

When Kane was finally convicted in August, Castor was next in line for her job. He grabbed it eagerly.

After taking the oath of office privately, he made a public speech from his new Harrisburg briefing room — assuring reporters that the office was in good hands, and talking about his plan for a public swearing-in ceremony, so his parents could see him become Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor.

His appointment as solicitor general had already raised eyebrows across the commonwealth. Now, his assumption of the attorney general mantle raised them even further.

“He’s obviously her man and obviously cannot begin the process of healing,” Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University, said at the time. “And I’m sure that’s how the legislature and the governor will look at it, and I’m sure they’ll try to put in an interim person, even for a few months.”

That’s exactly what Gov, Tom Wolf did, just a few weeks later. He installed Inspector General Bruce Beemer, and Castor was out just as quickly as he’d gotten in.

Castor’s entanglement with Kane wasn’t the first time he’d insinuated himself into a troubled political office. At the same time he was joining the attorney general’s office, he was already in a strikingly similar situation in Centre County.

County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller had been involved in a legal battle after being accused of forging a judge’s signature in 2015. Castor was her personal attorney.

And then, to the dismay of county officials, Parks Miller made him an official part of the office. StateCollege.com reported at the time that she appointed Castor as a special assistant prosecutor for “cases involving efforts to disqualify the District Attorney of Centre County and her assistants from prosecuting cases.”

All the while, he remained Parks Miller’s personal attorney as she sued Centre County for releasing some of her cell phone records.

Castor later put a bow on the saga by suing Centre County, alleging that they owed him $126,000 in legal fees for defending Parks Miller.

Commissioners said they were befuddled by the suit and had no contract on record for the money Castor said he was owed.

Trump’s impeachment trial starts Feb. 9., with Castor’s fellow Montco native Rep. Madeleine Dean leading the prosecution as an impeachment manager. In a statement, Castor did not elaborate much on his decision to become the former president’s counsel.

“The strength of our Constitution is about to be tested like never before in our history,” he said. “It is strong and resilient — a document written for the ages, and it will triumph over partisanship yet again, and always.”

The Montgomery County Republican Committee cheered his new role in a Facebook post: “We look forward to watching our own Bruce Castor … wipe the floor with Madeleine Dean during the forthcoming sham impeachment trial.”

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