"Every defendant for himself": Mark Meadows and others may be ready to flip on Trump

Strategy emerging for Meadows and other co-defendants: "Portray yourself as a helpless pawn," pin blame on Trump

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published September 5, 2023 1:41PM (EDT)

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows listens during a cabinet meeting in the East Room of the White House on May 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows listens during a cabinet meeting in the East Room of the White House on May 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A new report from Politico details evidence that Donald Trump's inner circle of co-defendants have begun seeking to shift the onus from themselves to Trump in multiple concurrent criminal cases.  

Co-defendants implicated alongside Trump (or named as "unindicted co-conspirators" in the federal case) have begun, Politico reports, "to show glimmers of a tried-and-true strategy in cases with many defendants: Portray yourself as a hapless pawn while piling blame on the apparent kingpin."

One of the most notorious Trump flippers of earlier years, his former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, is now a pivotal witness in the ex-president's New York criminal case over his alleged role in facilitating hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the final stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign. 

"I suspect it will be every defendant for himself," Cohen told Politico, speaking about Trump's current legal plight. "History has shown the 18 co-defendants that Donald doesn't care about anyone but himself," he said, specifically referring to the long list of alleged co-conspirators charged by District Attorney Fani Willis in the Georgia election racketeering case.

A potentially significant example came late last week, when former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows signaled that he would likely point to Trump as the ringleader and orchestrator of efforts to subvert the Georgia election. Meadows made a surprise appearance as a witness in Atlanta, testifying in his effort to move his case from state to federal court. Meadows claimed that he did not play "any role" in the plot to name Georgia "fake electors" pledged to Trump. In a post-hearing brief, however, Willis suggested that Meadows had not been truthful. 

We need your help to stay independent

"And after insisting that he did not play 'any role' in the coordination of slates of 'fake electors' throughout several states, the defendant was forced to acknowledge under cross-examination that he had in fact given direction to a campaign official in this regard," Willis wrote in the filing. A footnote to the brief argued that the judge "has ample basis not to credit some or all of the defendant's testimony."

Politico further reported that court documents from Meadows' hearing showed that one of his defense attorneys, Michael Francisco, underscored the infamous phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in early January of 2021, pressuring Raffensperger to "find 11,780 votes." As Politico notes, Meadows personally arranged the call, but after prosecutors played a recording of the call in court, "an attorney for Meadows emphasized that his client's part in the actual discussion was both more minor and less provocative than Trump's."

"There's a lot of statements by Mr. Trump. Mr. Meadows' speaking roles were quite limited," Francisco said during his cross-examination of Raffensperger, who also testified.

"He didn't make a request that you change the vote totals — Mr. Meadows, himself?" Francisco continued.

"Correct," Raffensperger replied.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Politico also highlighted a portion of Meadows' testimony in which he said that Trump "viewed the false electors as a significant part of his strategy to remain in power. "

Meadows claimed he then sent an email pushing the campaign to assemble pro-Trump slates of electors largely because he feared a tongue-lashing from his boss.

"What I didn't want to happen was for the campaign to prevail in court action and not have this" lined up, Meadows said, adding that if that happened, "I knew I'd be yelled at by the president of the United States."

"Strategically speaking, if you are one of the less important players, you would definitely want to be in the same trial with Donald Trump. All of the focus is going to be on him," said Florida-based lawyer Scott Weinberg. "They don't want the little guys, they want Trump. You're always compared to who you're next to."

Also prominently mentioned in Politico's report was Yuscil Taveras, an IT aide at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate who has significantly altered his initial testimony about alleged efforts to destroy surveillance video, and has now agreed to cooperate with special counsel Jack Smith, who is prosecuting Trump in Washington, D.C. Politico notes that Taveras' apparent "flip may help him dodge a possible perjury charge ... and it is likely to bolster Smith's obstruction-of-justice case against Trump and two other aides." Three Republican activists who were indicted with the ex-president in Georgia for attempting to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 win have all stated that they had acted in accordance with Trump's "direction," after posing as legitimate Trump electors and signing false documents.

John Lauro, Trump's lead lawyer in Smith's federal election case, recently said that he intends to file a series of motions, including a claim presidential immunity claim, in hopes of getting the charges against Trump reduced or dismissed altogether. Lauro has protested U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan's ruling that the trial should begin next March, saying that mounting a defense of the ex-president is "an enormous, overwhelming task." 

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

MORE FROM Gabriella Ferrigine