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First on CNN: Trump's impeachment defense team leaves less than two weeks before trial

(CNN)Former President Donald Trump's five impeachment defense attorneys have left a little more than a week before his trial is set to begin, according to people familiar with the case, amid a disagreement over his legal strategy.

It was a dramatic development in the second impeachment trial for Trump, who has struggled to find lawyers willing to take his case. And now, with legal briefs due next week and a trial set to begin only days later, Trump is clinging to his election fraud charade and suddenly finds himself without legal representation.
Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier, who were expected to be two of the lead attorneys, are no longer on the team. A source familiar with the changes said it was a mutual decision for both to leave the legal team. As the lead attorney, Bowers assembled the team.
Josh Howard, a North Carolina attorney who was recently added to the team, has also left, according to another source familiar with the changes. Johnny Gasser and Greg Harris, from South Carolina, are no longer involved with the case, either.
No other attorneys have announced they are working on Trump's impeachment defense.
A person familiar with the departures told CNN that Trump wanted the attorneys to argue there was mass election fraud and that the election was stolen from him rather than focus on the legality of convicting a president after he's left office. Trump was not receptive to the discussions about how they should proceed in that regard.
The attorneys had not yet been paid any advance fees and a letter of intent was never signed.
CNN has reached out to the attorneys for comment.
"The Democrats' efforts to impeach a president who has already left office is totally unconstitutional and so bad for our country. In fact, 45 Senators have already voted that it is unconstitutional. We have done much work, but have not made a final decision on our legal team, which will be made shortly," former Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller told CNN.
Bowers, a respected lawyer from Columbia, South Carolina, once worked in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.
Barbier, a South Carolina litigator, worked closely on several high-profile cases and was a former federal prosecutor for 15 years in the state before opening up her own boutique criminal defense firm.
Gasser and Harris are both former federal prosecutors. Gasser served as the interim US attorney for South Carolina earlier in his career. Both have worked closely with Barbier on the defense side.
Howard worked as an associate independent counsel on the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations during the Clinton presidency and spent a decade in the Justice Department where he worked on the confirmations of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Howard once served as the chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, leaving the post at the beginning of 2016.
This story has been updated to include reporting on the additional departures from Trump's team.
CNN's Kara Scannell and Manu Raju contributed to this report.

 
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