WASHINGTON – When Republican politicians in South Carolina have faced possible impeachment, ethics charges or other serious accusations, they have often turned to Karl Bowers Jr., a lawyer with a military background, taciturn demeanor and a small office near the State House in Columbia.
Now Bowers is taking on his biggest case yet: defending former president Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, this time against a charge that he incited a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol.
The longtime GOP attorney is little known outside of South Carolina and has no powerhouse law firm behind him. Colleagues say he is better known for behind-the-scenes negotiations than courtroom oratory.
In Bowers, Trump is getting a seasoned lawyer at a time when prominent Washington litigators have little interest in working for the former president – and a measured figure who offers a sharp contrast to attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who spent the past several months unspooling wild conspiracy theories that the election was rigged.
“When I was threatened with the specter of impeachment, he was able and professional,” said former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, recalling how Bowers successfully fought off efforts to remove him from office. “From his vantage point, it is a good business decision. It substantially raises your profile on a national and international basis.”
In addition to his work for Sanford, Bowers defended then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley during an ethics investigation, and he played a key role in the campaigns of some of the state’s most prominent Republican politicians. His law office is in a small white building that also houses the firm of current Gov. Henry McMaster.
“He is the first call that every Republican campaign makes for a legal team,” said South Carolina political consultant Tim Pearson, who has worked alongside Bowers on gubernatorial campaigns and shares office space with him. “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 did not respond to a request for comment.
Bowers, 55, a graduate of Tulane Law School, was recommended to Trump by Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, who said that he expects that Trump might bring on other lawyers.
“He can handle Trump well,” Graham said of Bowers in an interview. “He’ll give the president good advice and won’t sugarcoat it. He can talk to him.”
But Democrats in the state who know Bowers and his politics were surprised that he was willing to take on the case.
“He is not a crazy Trump supporter,” said Dick Harpootlian, a prominent lawyer in Columbia and a major donor to President Biden, who said he had argued about six cases against Bowers, who is also his neighbor.
Harpootlian said Bowers probably was persuaded to come aboard because of his relationship with Graham.
“I was surprised because you would have thought there would be a national superstar, with Trump and all his money,” he added. “I’m not saying Butch is not a good lawyer – he is. But there are folks who have participated in these kinds of proceedings before or have big law firms where they can put their people on it.”
Bowers, by contrast, runs a small firm called Bowers Law Office, and he is the only lawyer listed on the firm’s website. He often answers his own door, and he is regularly seen jogging through the city streets. He has a sober manner, associates said.
“Unlike his client, he won’t be bombastic,” Harpootlian said. “You won’t see him flapping his arms around and yelling at anybody.”
Matt Moore, a former chairman of the state GOP party, said Bowers drove a four-wheel-drive truck and preferred suits from Macy’s over Brioni.
“He’s known for his discretion. He doesn’t partake in the usual Columbia shenanigans, of inside gossip and that kind of thing,” he said, adding that “he knows how to get his clients out of tough spots.”
Amanda Loveday, the former director of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said she and Bowers addressed a River Bluff High School class together outside Columbia a few years ago.
“I can’t remember if he specifically said, ‘I’m not a Trump Republican,’ or if he said, ‘I’m not one of those Republicans,’ but he made some allusion to the class that he wasn’t ‘one of those,’ ” Loveday said. “The second the story came out he was working for Trump, that came rushing to my mind. It’s literally all I’ve been thinking since this whole thing came out.”
Graham, who served as an officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the Air Force, said that Bowers served with him and then “he took over my job.”
Bowers has been a member of the South Carolina Air National Guard since 1983 and has a rank of colonel, according to the biography on his law firm’s website.
He has spent much of his career working on election law, advising campaigns, and defending politicians accused of ethics violations.
After serving as chairman of the South Carolina State Election Commission from 2004 to 2007 and as special counsel on voting matters for the Justice Department, Bowers was counsel for the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
In the Sanford case, Bowers defended the governor against a move to oust him from office after revelations of the governor’s affair with an Argentine woman and questions about use of state travel funds. The impeachment effort was dropped.
In 2012, Bowers defended Haley, who faced a hearing by the State Ethics Commission into allegations that she had failed to disclose addresses and occupations for campaign donors. Bowers said at the time that the missing information was minor and that the matter should be handled administratively.
The State, a Columbia newspaper, reported that Bowers was involved in 14 months of “secret negotiations” to try to get the charges dropped, and the commission eventually fined Haley $3,500, according to the newspaper.
The commission also examined whether Haley illegally lobbied while she was a House member in the state legislature, and Bowers once again represented her. She was cleared in the case.
“Butch is a good friend and a fine lawyer,” Haley said in a statement Friday. “President Trump is fortunate to have him on his team.”
In 2016, Bowers was among the lawyers who defended a Republican-backed effort in North Carolina to require transgender residents to use restrooms in certain public facilities that match their sex as recorded on birth certificates.
The Winston-Salem Journal reported that Bowers said the law was needed to prevent men dressed as women entering a women’s bathroom. The law prompted boycotts and a settlement was later reached that enabled individuals to use bathrooms that matched their gender identity.
Graham said that Bowers is expected to meet with Trump in the coming days. The lawyer has already spoken to the former president on the phone, according to people familiar with their interactions, as well as with Trump allies such as spokesman Jason Miller, who first tweeted the news of his hiring.
“Excited to announce that Columbia, SC-based Butch Bowers has joined President Trump’s legal team,” Miller tweeted. “Butch is well respected by both Republicans and Democrats and will do an excellent job defending President Trump.”
Miller did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump aides have not disclosed how much Bowers will be paid or whether the funds would come from the former president’s new leadership PAC, Save America, which Trump set up after the election. The PAC has more than $70 million on hand, according to one person familiar with the finances.
The Senate trial is set to begin the week of Feb. 8. Seventeen Republicans would have to join all 50 Democrats to convict Trump.
Graham said there were only a handful of Republican senators who were inclined to convict. He said the defense will argue that Congress has “never impeached a president after they left office for a reason.”
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The Washington Post’s Alice Crites contributed to this report.