As Karl S. “Butch” Bowers Jr. works from his one-lawyer office in Columbia, S.C., preparing to defend former president Donald Trump in the Senate impeachment trial, he thinks back to the day in 1983 when his father called him before heading to federal prison.
Ever since his father served time for defrauding the government, Bowers said, he felt that the conviction was politically motivated and unfair, and he has spent much of his career defending political figures, including two South Carolina governors, against various allegations of wrongdoing.
So he said he did not hesitate to defend Trump, a job that lawyers at big, high-profile law firms apparently did not want.
“It’s who I am. It’s what I do. It’s all about the rule of law in the Constitution,” Bowers told The Washington Post in his first interview since Trump picked him. He was recommended by his longtime friend Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) as the lead attorney in the Senate trial, which is slated to begin Feb. 9.
“It’s my military experience,” said Bowers, who is a colonel in the South Carolina Air National Guard. “I’m not worried what other people think. … This goes back to my dad. I’m not looking to get anybody to say good things about me. What I’m looking for is to help the people I’m retained to represent. And that’s what I care about.”
Bowers, 55, a graduate of Tulane Law School, has experience defending politicians in high-level cases in South Carolina.
He declined to discuss his legal strategy, whether Trump might appear at the trial, or whether he would call witnesses. Asked whether he wanted to declare Trump’s innocence, he responded: “You’ll see our case when we present it, and I think the facts and the law will speak for themselves.”
Bowers declined to say whether he voted for Trump. “The vote is sacrosanct, so I’m not going to talk about that,” he said.
Bowers will defend Trump in the former president’s second impeachment trial, this time against a charge that he incited a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Bowers also declined, citing attorney-client privileges, to say whether he had secured payment in advance for his services from the former president, who has a reputation for contesting bills for legal services, taxes and contracts.
Public records show that Bowers has had federal liens placed on his property in Columbia that totaled more than $400,000, and The Post did not find records showing the liens had been released. Such liens are usually placed to recover tax debts. Bowers said in the interview that the liens have all been satisfied.
“There were some disputes, and we got them worked out and they’ve been resolved,” he said.
Bowers said he is, as a Trump aide described him, the “anchor tenant” of the legal team. He said that he is bringing on a number of other lawyers to help him present the case, among them Columbia lawyer Deborah Barbier.
With less than two weeks before the trial is slated to begin, Bowers said he feels confident he has enough time to prepare his defense of the president. “Just like in any other endeavor, sometimes you get a ton of time as a lawyer, sometimes you get a short period of time, and you just adjust as needed,” Bowers said.
Bowers said he has not read any coverage about him and has paid no attention to questions about whether he has the ability to handle the historic case. Bowers was described by associates as a serious-minded, taciturn lawyer who bears little resemblance to the bombastic, publicity-seeking lawyers who have sometimes represented Trump.
“You may not believe it, but I haven’t read anything in the media,” Bowers said. “So I would not have anything to say to them because I don’t know what they are saying.”
Bowers has taken some high-profile cases in South Carolina. In 2009, he represented then-Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who was threatened with impeachment after revelations of the governor’s affair with an Argentine woman and questions about the use of state travel funds. The impeachment effort was dropped.
In 2012, Bowers defended then-Gov. Nikki Haley, who faced a State Ethics Commission inquiry into allegations of campaign finance violations. After negotiations by Bowers, the commissioned fined Haley $3,500.
“He is the first call that every Republican campaign makes for a legal team,” South Carolina political consultant Tim Pearson recently told The Post. “It doesn’t surprise me he is willing to do the work. He is a lawyer’s lawyer in the sense that I think he believes that everybody deserves representation.”
Bowers said that his specialty of defending public figures can be traced to the memory of what happened to his father, Karl S. Bowers Sr., who died in 2012.
The elder Bowers had served as the head of the Federal Highway Administration under President Jimmy Carter. After he returned home to South Carolina, he was charged with criminal conspiracy and embezzlement in a scheme involving the sale of homes repossessed by the government, according to a Post story at the time. The senior Bowers was convicted in June 1980.
Bowers said that he had just begun his Air Force basic training when he was called into an office and found his father was on the phone. The senior Bowers had exhausted his appeals in 1983 and told his son he was going to prison.
As Bowers recalled it, his father said, “I’m going away for a while, but I’m calling you to tell you that you, you need to stay there. You don’t need to come home.”
Bowers said he always believed that his father, who may have been considering a run for governor or Congress, was targeted for prosecution for political reasons.
“My dad had a huge impact on my life, and as I got older” and reflected on “some of the wrongs that I felt like happened to him,” Bowers said, he decided that “if I could help other people avoid that kind of stuff, then maybe that can be my contribution to society.”
Alice Crites contributed to this report.
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