Washington: In the days and weeks after Donald Trump lost the 2020 US election, Rudy Giuliani was everywhere.
He pushed out conspiracy theories at a sweaty news conference in Washington, hair dye dripping down his cheeks to such an extent that Trump himself reportedly flinched when he saw the coverage.
He stood in the parking lot of a landscaping company next to an adult bookstore in Philadelphia, railing to the assembled press about dead people casting ballots.
And he travelled to Georgia to sow doubt about voting machines while urging legislators not to certify the election results in that state.
Now, the former New York mayor and personal lawyer to Trump finds himself embroiled in what some legal scholars describe as the most significant indictment in US history.
Contained in the 45-page document that lays out how the former president sought to subvert the election are six co-conspirators who allegedly assisted his bid to stop Joe Biden’s victory from being certified.
None have been named and they are yet to be charged, but their descriptions – based on public records and testimony from the January 6 congressional hearings of last year – make it easy to identify most of them.
Co-conspirator 1 is Giuliani, who is described in the indictment as an “attorney who was willing to spread knowingly false claims and pursue strategies that the Defendant’s 2020 re-election campaign attorneys would not”.
Co-conspirator 2 is another former Trump lawyer, John Eastman, who “devised and implemented a strategy” for vice president Mike Pence to overturn the 2020 election while presiding over the certification of votes on January 6, 2021 – the day the Capitol riots took place.
Co-conspirator 3 is believed to be Sidney Powell, the attorney who fuelled bizarre conspiracies about rigged voting machines with ties to dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, Chinese software companies, and the Democrat financier George Soros. According to the indictment, Trump privately acknowledged her claims were “crazy” but amplified them anyway.
And co-conspirators 4 and 5 are former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and lawyer Kenneth Cheseboro. The former has been accused of trying to “open sham election crime investigations and influence state legislatures” with stolen election lies; the latter helped craft the now-infamous scheme to recruit “fake electors” who would help flip states that Biden won back to Trump. The identity of co-conspirator 6 remains a mystery, as fewer clues beyond the person being a political consultant, can be gleaned from the indictment.
It is notable that Special Counsel Jack Smith hasn’t brought charges against any of the group. As Smith exited a brief news conference on Wednesday night (US time), he also deliberately ignored a question from a reporter who asked him why.
Former Justice Department official Alan Rozenshtein said this suggested negotiations for the co-operation of alleged co-conspirators could be ongoing, or that future charges were on the agenda. Which prompts the question: could any of those Trump allies turn against him in exchange for immunity?
“I would be surprised if everyone flipped,” said Rozenshtein, who is now a law expert at the University of Minnesota. “I would also be surprised if we did not see, in the coming weeks or months, indictments of at least some of these unnamed co-conspirators.”
For now, most of them are keeping a low profile. Giuliani, however, lashed out at Smith in an outraged interview on right-wing cable network Newsmax on Tuesday night (Wednesday AEST), waving a copy of Trump’s indictment in front of the camera and claiming: “This one will be your legacy: violating the right of free speech of an American citizen!”
“Never mind if he was president or not. It could be anybody, it could be a homeless person – you don’t get to violate people’s first amendment rights, Smith! No matter who the hell you are, no matter how sick you are with Trump derangement syndrome!”
The latest charges were filed by a federal grand jury in Washington and are the culmination of the biggest investigation ever undertaken by the Justice Department.
Trump is expected to appear in a DC court on Thursday afternoon (Friday morning AEST) to plead not guilty to the four charges against him, which include conspiracies to defraud the United States and to obstruct an official proceeding.
Much of those conspiracies centred around an elaborate, multipronged plan between Trump and his allies that began by them pushing lies of voter fraud, partly to fuel public anger and convince Republican officials in targeted states to help draft or to put their names as electors on documents that declared that Trump won, when he hadn’t.
Once those fake elector slates had been created, the goal was to pressure Pence to consider them during the joint session of Congress on January 6, when Biden’s victory was due to be certified.
Trump and his co-conspirators also allegedly tried to get the Justice Department to send a letter to the targeted states – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – falsely claiming they had identified significant concerns that may have “impacted the election outcome” in a bid to flip those states in Trump’s favour.
And once it became clear on January 6 that Pence would not alter the election outcome, the indictment claims they “exploited” the violent attack on the US Capitol in the hope it would bring a halt to Biden’s certification.
“Each of these conspiracies – which built on the widespread mistrust the defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilising lies about election fraud – targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election,” the document said.
Trump, however, insists that the charges against him are nothing more than a political witch-hunt and an attempt to stop him from running for office again.
Republicans also rallied around him as news of the indictment continued to reverberate, with many – from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – branding it as yet another example of a two-tiered justice system.
Pence, however, struck a somewhat different tone, saying that his former boss was not fit for the presidency and reiterating that, contrary to what Trump had claimed, he had “no right to overturn the election”.
“Sadly, the president was surrounded by a group of crackpot lawyers that kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear,” he added.
Trump is embroiled in six cases in several jurisdictions involving:
- 34 counts relating to alleged hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, New York
- 40 counts relating to classified documents kept at his residence, Florida
- Alleged “persistent and repeated business fraud” at his Trump Organisation, New York
- Writer E Jean Carrol’s second defamation trial, New York
- Alleged scheme to overturn the 2020 election Georgia college vote, Georgia
- Four counts relating to an effort to overturn the 2020 election which led to the January 6 Capitol riots, Washington. The charges are: conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights (namely, the rights of voters).
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