Former President Donald Trump is relying on several relatively unknown attorneys from South Carolina to defend him in his second impeachment trial. All are from small firms and appear to be a stark contrast to Trump's previous counsel.

Butch Bowers, 55, is an elections and ethics attorney in the capital city of Columbia. He is known as the "go-to guy" for the state's Republican politicians and party leaders.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford turned to Bowers in 2009 when Sanford faced threats of impeachment for lying about leaving his job to visit his mistress in Argentina. He was censured instead.

Sanford calls Bowers a skilled attorney who is low key and measured, unlike Trump's previous counsel, Rudy Giuliani.

"He's an incredibly competent person who is sort of the opposite of the bombastic style that you see in Giuliani and some of the other lawyers who have surrounded Trump over the years," Sanford says.

Bowers has also defended two other South Carolina governors in ethics cases: Nikki Haley and Henry McMaster.

Political consultant Tim Pearson has worked with both governors and now shares office space with Bowers in a modest white house. He calls the Tulane University graduate thoughtful, a straight shooter, someone who relies on the facts.

"He's the kind of person that if he was in the president's ear for the past couple of years, we probably wouldn't have ended up in this place," Pearson says.

Also on the case are three former federal prosecutors and prominent defense attorneys from Columbia as well: Greg Harris, Johnny Gasser and Deborah Barbier.

Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson in Charleston says she's known Barbier for years. "She's extremely competent, level-headed and cool under pressure."

The two conferred on a case involving the 2015 Charleston church massacre. Barbier defended Joey Meek, 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, Dylann Roof, and used that testimony to convict him.

"I think she's really good a seeing the big picture. So, I think that will come in handy," Wilson says.

We reached out to all the attorneys for comment. They did not respond.

So how did these South Carolina attorneys wind up on Trump's legal team? Sen. Lindsey Graham recommended Bowers for the job. Also, Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, says the former president likely had a tough time finding higher profile attorneys willing to sign on.

"You know, I think the president's strategy has to be different this time," Vladeck says.

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

"They can vote to acquit in a vote that they can at least plausibly describe as not being about whether they think the president is guilty, but whether they think the president ought to be convicted," he says.

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

Copyright 2021 South Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit South Carolina Public Radio.

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