Legal experts identify Trump’s co-conspirators — and warn they “will be charged” unless they “flip”

"Smith is sending these folks a really strong signal that they can either get on the bus or be underneath it"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 2, 2023 9:30AM (EDT)

Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Sidney Powell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Sidney Powell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The federal indictment against former President Donald Trump over his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss alleged that Trump had six co-conspirators to "assist him in his criminal efforts to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election and retain power."

The co-conspirators were not charged or even named in the indictment but legal experts and reporters quickly used the detailed descriptions by prosecutors to identify five of the six individuals.

"The 6 unnamed coconspirators will be charged, in a separate DC indictment (if that has not happened already)," tweeted former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team. "Indeed, the Trump DC indictment reads like an indictment of them already."

"Co-Conspirator 1" appears to be former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, according to Weissmann. The indictment identifies the individual as an attorney who was "willing to spread knowingly false claims and pursue strategies" that Trump's campaign would not pursue. The indictment alleges that Trump enlisted the co-conspirator after his campaign told him he lost the election and that they both knew they were making false claims to "impair, obstruct and defeat" the election results. The indictment also alleges the co-conspirator admitted to an Arizona lawmaker that he had no proof for the claims.

"We don't have the evidence, but we have lots of theories," he allegedly said, per the indictment.

Giuliani political adviser Ted Goodman told The Washington Post that the indictment criminalized the act of "daring to ask questions about the 2020 election results."

"Every fact Mayor Rudy Giuliani possesses about this case establishes the good faith basis President Donald Trump had for the actions he took during the two-month period charged in the indictment," Goodman said.

"Co-Conspirator 2" appears to be John Eastman, the author of the so-called "coup memo" that crafted Trump's Jan. 6 strategy to try to throw the election back to state legislatures to decide. The indictment describes the co-conspirator as an attorney who "devised and attempted to implement a strategy to leverage the Vice President's ceremonial role overseeing the certification proceeding to obstruct the certification of the presidential election." The indictment says the co-conspirator acknowledged in an email about a Georgia lawsuit that he and Trump had "been made aware that some of the allegations (and evidence proffered by experts) has been inaccurate" but the claims remained in the lawsuit.

Eastman lawyer Charles Burnham told the Post that the indictment "relies on a misleading presentation of the record to contrive criminal charges against Presidential candidate Trump and to cast ominous aspersions on his close advisors."

"[I]f he were invited to plea bargain with either state or federal prosecutors, he would decline. The fact is, if Dr. Eastman is indicted, he will go to trial. If convicted, he will appeal," Burnham said. "The Eastman legal team is confident of its legal position in this matter."

"Co-Conspirator 3" appears to be Sidney Powell, who is described as an attorney whose baseless allegations were "embraced and publicly amplified" by Trump even as he told others her claims sounded "crazy," according to the indictment. Powell, who baselessly claimed there was a global conspiracy to flip votes from Trump to President Joe Biden, filed numerous lawsuits that went nowhere after the election, drawing sanctions for misconduct and multiple defamation lawsuits. Powell told the House Jan. 6 committee that she did not read or review all of the declarations she presented as evidence of fraud and argued through an attorney that "no reasonable person" could take her claims as fact.

"Co-Conspirator 4" appears to be Jeffrey Clark. The indictment describes the person as a Justice Department official who focused on civil matters and worked with Trump to "use the Justice Department to open sham election crime investigations and influence state legislatures with knowingly false claims of election fraud." Former Attorney General Bill Barr and his replacement, Jeffrey Rosen, have testified that the DOJ did investigate some claims and found no evidence of widespread fraud.

The indictment alleges that Trump's deputy White House counsel warned Clark that if Trump refused to leave office, there would be "riots in every major city." Clark responded, "That's why there's an Insurrection Act," according to the indictment.

"Co-Conspirator 5" appears to be Kenneth Chesebro, an attorney described by the indictment as having "assisted in devising and attempting to implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding." Chesebro played a key role in the fake elector plot.

It's unclear who is "Co-Conspirator 6," who was described in the indictment as a "political consultant who helped implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding." The indictment claims the person sent Giuliani an email identifying lawyers in six swing states who would assist in the fake elector scheme and participated in a conference call about the effort in Pennsylvania. On the evening of Jan. 6, after the mob had overrun the Capitol, the co-conspirator looked for senators' phone numbers for Giuliani to call to further delay the certification of electoral votes.

The co-conspirators were not indicted alongside Trump but they could still face charges.

Weissmann told MSNBC that the decision not to charge the co-conspirators in the same case "shows that Jack Smith wants to get to trial and he wants to get to trial quickly."

"Those other people may be charged in a separate case," he said. "He clearly is saying that they are guilty. But the reason you don't see seven defendants is if you want to get to trial you bring something narrow and focused against the defendant who you need to try before the general election. If I were those six people, I would not be sleeping well tonight."

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Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal agreed that the co-conspirators were not included because "Smith doesn't want the trial of the other six to be bundled up in this and slow this down."

Smith faces a challenge in "timing and making sure Donald Trump can't run out the clock before the November 2024 elections through his typical delay strategy," he told MSNBC.

New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman tweeted that there is a "ton of pressure in this indictment for co-conspirators to flip (if they haven't already)."

"Some very strong evidence they knew Trump lost election, the litigation was a "pretext," that their means were unlawful," he wrote.

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Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance pointed out that it is "unusual" for prosecutors to lead with potentially identifying details about unnamed co-conspirators in an indictment.

"It might be that Jack Smith is sending these folks a really strong signal that they can either get on the bus or be underneath it when everything here is said and done," she told MSNBC. "These are folks who need to have that come to Jesus moment, who need to cooperate with the government. If they don't, they will ultimately be indicted and they will be looking at charges that will carry very serious penalties for people who abuse a position of trust to commit these crimes."

Former Trump attorney Tim Parlatore, who left his legal team in May, told CNN that he was surprised the indictment came this soon because "this is something that I know Jack Smith's team is still investigating."

"They're still interviewing witnesses that, just from my brief, have information that's directly relevant to these things," he said. "It's surprising he would hand down the indictment today, instead of a couple of weeks from now after they finish doing all of those witness interviews."

Parlatore said it "may be an indication that this is just the initial indictment."

"He is going to try and put pressure on the other six to move over to become cooperating witnesses, or else there is going to be a superseding indictment that will name them all as co-defendants," he predicted.

New York Times reporter and Trump biographer Maggie Haberman told CNN that Trump is "much more rattled than he is projecting."

"He is very upset. Folks around him are very upset," she said. "On the one hand, they were relieved reading this indictment that there were not more details that they didn't know that were in it. On the other, there was a reference to six co-conspirators, and that raises questions about: Will anyone else face charges, and will more details be revealed if that happens?"

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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