"Sounds like a coup to me": Experts say Trump lawyer's statement is "an admission, not a defense"

Former Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann called John Lauro's Fox News appearance a "rookie mistake"

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published August 4, 2023 11:29AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump waits to be introduced at the Oakland County Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner at Suburban Collection Showplace on June 25, 2023 in Novi, Michigan. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump waits to be introduced at the Oakland County Republican Party's Lincoln Day dinner at Suburban Collection Showplace on June 25, 2023 in Novi, Michigan. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Former Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann called Donald Trump's attorney's appearance on Fox News after the former president's arraignment Thursday a "rookie mistake" after he appeared to make an "admission" about the case.

Just hours before attorney John Lauro's appearances on Fox News and Newsmax, Trump was arrested and arraigned in a federal court in Washington D.C., in connection to his latest indictment for allegedly conspiring to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to Joe Biden following the 2020 election. The former president was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights. Trump pleaded not guilty to all four felony counts Thursday.

Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to carry out his election certification duties in Congress ahead of the Jan. 6 certification of Biden's win, urging him instead to return the matter to the states where Republican-dominated legislatures in states Trump lost could replace valid Biden electors with pro-Trump slates of electors. All the while, the former president lobbied several state officials to overturn the results in their states.

Lauro appeared on Fox's "The Ingraham Angle" and Newsmax's "Greg Kelly Reports" Thursday evening, offering the same defense of Trump's actions to the respective hosts.

"What President Trump said is, 'Let's go with option D,'" Lauro told Fox host Laura Ingraham. "Let's just halt, let's just pause the voting and allow the state legislatures to take one last look and make a determination as to whether or not the elections were handled fairly. That's constitutional law. That's not an issue of criminal activity."

MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell was stunned by the statement.

"That is a Trump criminal defense lawyer quoting Donald Trump committing a crime," he said. "Donald Trump's criminal defense lawyer tonight added information to [Special Counsel] Jack Smith's 42-page description of Donald Trump's crimes. The conversation that John Lauro just described appears on page 34 of the indictment against his client."

Weissmann told O'Donnell, "I don't know why a defense lawyer is going to start giving facts about a critical moment."

"It's the whole case!" O'Donnell exclaimed.

"And by the way, it is such a damning thing when you put it in context because remember, what the indictment alleges is prior to that, the reason this had to be done with the vice president is because prior to that, all the efforts that Donald Trump took with respect to the secretaries of state did not work," Weismann said.

"So, for him to say, 'Oh, let's just double check'? I mean, there's nothing to double-check. He actually threatened criminal prosecution against the secretary of state of Georgia, and he still stuck to his guns. So this sort of like, 'Oh, let's just buy some time,' it's illegal, and it's not like there's any real dispute," Weissmann continued. "He knew that the secretaries of state had said to him, 'No, there is no issue, these have been certified, there's no legal basis to do it.' So I just don't know why John, who is a good lawyer, didn't just zip it and not say anything."

"They don't teach TV in law school," O'Donnell quipped in response.

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Weissmann went on to explain that a defense lawyer who makes a statement on behalf of their client is making an admission that could be used against the client in court.

"You have to make a motion and say, 'I am saying this was an agent of the defendant.' I mean, again, the judge would have discretion to say, 'Maybe this particular statement wasn't made for him.' But there's a case called GAF that says when you are an agent of a defendant and you are making a statement on his or her behalf, that is admissible," Weissmann said.

"So again, that is why it is fine to say, 'Here are the defenses.' But to start weighing in on this, I mean, not that Donald Trump is going to testify, but if he were and he didn't say exactly this thing, he can be cross-examined on this," he concluded. "So this was just a kind of rookie mistake to make. Just to be clear, John is a good lawyer. I think this was not a smart move."

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Weissmann and other legal experts also shared a clip from Lauro's Newsmax appearance online late Thursday, mocking the Trump attorney for his "strange defense."

"The 'my client just wanted to unlawfully pause an official government proceeding' is a strange defense to an unlawful disruption of a government proceeding charge," Georgia State Law professor Anthony Michael Kreis posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, in response to the clip.

"An admission. Not a defense," Weissmann added.

"Sounds like a coup to me," quipped Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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