Experts: Trump associates "in a world of hurt" — may cooperate after they're "left holding the bag"

Arizona prosecutions will "proceed whether or not Trump wins," professor says, which may create incentives to flip

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published April 25, 2024 3:40PM (EDT)

Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump and Mark Meadows (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump and Mark Meadows (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, attorney Rudy Giuliani and other associates of former President Donald Trump were indicted Wednesday in Arizona over efforts to overturn his 2020 electoral defeat in the state. 

An Arizona grand jury handed down charges, including felony counts of conspiracy, fraud and forgery, against 18 total defendants, 11 of whom were fake electors, according to The New York Times. Trump, who faces criminal charges in Georgia and federal charges over alleged efforts to subvert the 2020 election, is also referenced as "unindicted co-conspirator 1."

The 58-page indictment makes Arizona the fourth state to bring an election interference case over the Trump campaign's activities in 2020, but only the second — after Georgia — to charge more than the false electors the campaign enlisted in the states Trump lost. 

"I think it's a righteous indictment, but it certainly didn't need to take this long" to charge, former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Salon. "Now, they're going to be really at the back of the line in terms of criminal cases."

Taking three-and-a-half years from the time of the alleged misconduct to charge the case is "surprising, to say the least," he added, noting later that the case amounts to "more [of] the same" fake electors plot conduct that other jurisdictions have brought indictments over.

In a recorded statement announcing the indictment, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes addressed concerns over the delay, the responsibility for which Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis argued on X/Twitter, belongs to her GOP predecessor, Mark Brnovich. 

“I understand for some of you today didn’t come fast enough, and I know I’ll be criticized by others for conducting this investigation at all,” said Mayes, a Democrat elected in 2022, noting the investigation lasted 13 months. “But as I have stated before and will say here again today, I will not allow American democracy to be undermined. It’s too important.”

The indictment outlines a series of the defendants' alleged efforts to subvert Arizona's election results, with the attorney general accusing them of pressuring "officials responsible for certifying election results to encourage them to change the election results," including the Maricopa Board of Supervisors and the governor.

While seven of the defendants' names are redacted, the context and their descriptions in the charging document make their identities clear. The passage making reference to ex-New York City Mayor Giuliani, for example, said that he was known as "the mayor."

Boris Epshteyn, one of the former president's top legal strategists, was among those indicted. Other defendants include 2020 Trump campaign operative Mike Roman, fake-electors-scheme architect John Eastman and two other lawyers involved with Trump's presidential campaign: Jenna Ellis and Christina Bobb.

Trump skirting charges in the case was "the most surprising" aspect, Rahmani said. "I mean, you either believe that he's part of the scheme or not. In fact, he's the one that benefits the most from the conspiracy. So why wouldn't you charge him?"

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Kreis hypothesized on X that Mayes may not have sought charges against the former president for a number of reasons, including it being an election year with Trump as the presumptive GOP nominee, her possibly wanting to avoid the likely "headache" of joining the pipeline of Trump's four other criminal cases, and her potentially aiming for a "cleaner prosecution" by waiting out the Supreme Court's decision on presidential immunity. 

Legal experts also took note of the absence of Trump-aligned lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, another architect of the fake electors plot, from the list of defendants, with some speculating it suggests he may be cooperating with prosecutors. 

Among the charged false electors are some former top Arizona Republican Party officials, including Kelli Ward, a former state party chairwoman, and Greg Safsten, who served as the executive director of the state party in 2020. State Sens. Anthony Kern and Jake Hoffman were also charged. 

In total, according to the Times, 35 people who acted as false electors in four key 2020 swing states — Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — are facing criminal charges for signing certificates falsely proclaiming Trump the winner of their states' electoral votes. 

Giuliani, Meadows, Eastman and Roman now face charges in both Georgia and Arizona. Ellis struck a plea deal with Georgia prosecutors last fall. 

The defendants all face "potential state prison time," Rahmani said. But Giuliani and Eastman are likely now in "a world of hurt."

"Giuliani has a host of legal problems," Rahmani explained. "He's been sued, and there's a judgment against him for defamation. He's looking at issues regarding his law license. I mean he's charged in the Georgia case. Now he has to deal with this. And he's reportedly broke."

Eastman is "dealing with state bar issues in California and is disgraced," Rahmani added. "It is, in some ways, piling on. But that doesn't mean that it's not a righteous case because they did try to defraud the people of Arizona."

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A lawyer for Eastman and spokesman for Giuliani — Charles Burnham and Ted Goodman, respectively — bemoaned the prosecution of their clients to the Times late Wednesday.

“The phenomenon of partisan lawfare grows more troubling by the day," Burnham said. "Professor Eastman is innocent of criminal conduct in Arizona or any other place and will fight these charges as he has all the other unjust accusations leveled against him.”

“The continued weaponization of our justice system should concern every American as it does permanent, irrevocable harm to the country,” Goodman told the outlet.

For Donald Trump, the indictment "doesn't mean a whole lot," Rahmani explained, arguing that the former president will "obviously" choose not to testify and won't "show up to this case."

"Maybe it dirties him up a little bit more, but how much dirtier can Donald Trump get?" he said, noting that "even though he's not a named party, it's really more of the same for him."

The possibility of Trump reclaiming the presidency doesn't grant his advisors and allies any reprieve — a fact that could incentivize them to cooperate with authorities, NYU law professor Ryan Goodman notes in a Just Security analysis of the indictment.

Because a president can't issue pardons for state crimes, the fake electors and Trump associates' prosecutions "will accordingly proceed whether or not Trump wins" in November, Goodman explained. Meanwhile, Trump enjoys a "high likelihood" of being deemed immune from state and local prosecution. 

"In other words, co-defendants and co-conspirators may be left holding the bag," Goodman writes. "That dawning reality may create incentives for some of these individuals to cooperate with law enforcement authorities sooner than later."

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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Arizona Boris Epshteyn Furthering Mark Meadows Politics Rudy Giuliani