Donald Trump tried to overturn Joe Biden’s win and stay in power with the help of six co-conspirators, Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith alleged on Tuesday as he charged the former President with four crimes.
The Aug. 1 indictment against Trump describes actions Trump allegedly took to lie about the level of fraud in the election, pressure officials to reverse his loss, bring slates of fraudulent electors to Congress and disrupt the certification of the results in the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021.
But he didn’t do it alone, the indictment states. He allegedly had help from a core group of outside lawyers, a political consultant and one mid-level Justice Department official. Smith did not name the alleged co-conspirators, though he provided plenty of clues.
Why did Trump turn to them? Most of Trump’s own campaign staff, as well as members of his administration, refused to go along with his effort to deny the election loss and remain in the White House, the indictment alleges. Indeed, people at various levels in the federal government told Trump his claims of election fraud were false, including Vice President Mike Pence, top Department of Justice leaders, the director of national intelligence, officials with the Department of Homeland Security, and senior White House lawyers, as well as senior members of his campaign staff, and Republican state officials and legislators.
Here’s what we know about the six co-conspirators' identities based on publicly available information.
Rudy Giuliani capitalized on his national name recognition as a famous former New York mayor and former federal prosecutor to spread false claims of election fraud.
While not named in the indictment, Giuliani is likely “co-conspirator 1” who is described as an attorney who was “willing to spread knowingly false claims” and “pursue strategies” to overturn the election results that Trump’s own campaign staff would not pursue.
Crucially, the indictment alleges that this co-conspirator knew the claims of election fraud weren’t backed up by evidence. At one point, “co-conspirator 1” told an Arizona lawmaker pushing for proof of election fraud in that state that, “We don’t have the evidence, but we have lots of theories.” Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers described this conversation with Giuliani while testifying before a House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol last year.
Giuliani was a central player in Trump’s effort to overturn the election results and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. On Jan. 6, 2021, as lawmakers prepared to certify the election results, Giuliani told thousands of Trump supporters on the National Mall that “trial by combat” was needed to settle the outcome. Giuliani has described his actions as part of his work representing Trump and asking questions about the 2020 election results.
The conservative lawyer John Eastman promoted the discredited legal theory that Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to overturn the certified election results, and is likely the person described as “co-conspirator 2” in the indictment.
Eastman is the founding director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In the weeks after the 2020 election, Eastman distributed memos to Trump’s circle laying out a strategy for the Vice President to refuse to accept slates of electors from states Biden had won and reverse Biden’s electoral victory.
The indictment describes “co-conspirator 2” as an attorney who “devised and attempted to implement a strategy to leverage the Vice President’s ceremonial role in overseeing the certification proceeding to obstruct the certification of the presidential election.” It goes on to say that co-conspirator 2 acknowledged in an email that some of the allegations put forward in a Georgia lawsuit to reverse Biden’s win in the state were “inaccurate.”
One memo co-conspirator 2 wrote suggested Pence, holding the gavel in the Senate chamber on Jan. 6, could toss votes from states with disputed slates of electors and declare Trump “as re-elected.” Pence didn’t have the authority to do this and refused. Eastman has denied wrongdoing.
Sidney Powell is a former federal prosecutor and defense attorney who spread baseless allegations on Fox News and other conservative outlets that voting machines had been hacked in the 2020 election. Powell is likely the “co-conspirator 3” described in the indictment as an attorney whose claims of election fraud Trump “embraced and amplified” in public but in private acknowledged sounded “crazy.”
The indictment describes a White House meeting in December 2020 where Trump considers naming “co-conspirator 3” to be a special counsel to investigate the election. When he testified to the House Jan. 6 Committee, Trump’s White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said he was “vehemently opposed” to Sydney Powell being named a special counsel. “I didn’t think she should be appointed to anything,” Cipollone told the Jan. 6 Committee.
Jeffrey Clark was a mid-level official overseeing the Justice Department’s civil division when Donald Trump considered promoting him to acting attorney general in the weeks after the 2020 election. According to testimony from Trump Justice Department officials to the House Jan. 6 Committee, Clark went around his bosses to communicate directly with Trump and had proposed sending a letter to state officials saying the department was concerned about the election results and instructing them to send alternate elector slates to Washington.
Clark is likely the person described in the indictment as “co-conspirator 4”, a Justice Department official working with Trump to “use the Justice Department to open sham election crime investigations and influence state legislatures with knowingly false claims of election fraud.”
The indictment against Trump describes a heated meeting in the White House on Jan. 3, 2021, when senior Justice Department officials told Trump they would resign if he named Clark to replace Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who was refusing to back up Trump’s fraud claims.
In a chilling episode in the indictment, one of Trump’s deputy White House counsels warned that if Trump tried to stay in office, there would be “riots” in major U.S. cities. In response, “co-conspirator 4” says, “That’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.” The Insurrection Act of 1807 authorizes the president to deploy the military to put down civil disorder and rebellion. Clark pleaded the Fifth Amendment to many questions he was asked by the House Jan. 6 Committee.
Kenneth Chesebro is an experienced appellate attorney who promoted within Trump’s circle the unfounded idea that slates of pro-Trump electors from states Trump lost could be sent to Washington and be certified on Jan. 6.
In the indictment, “co-conspirator 5” is described as an attorney who assisted in “devising and attempting to implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding.” The indictment says an Arizona attorney described a proposal from “co-conspirator 5” as “wild/creative” that would involve “sending in ‘fake’ electoral votes to Pence so that ‘someone’ in Congress can make an objection when they start counting votes.”
The identity of “co-conspirator 6” is the most unclear. The indictment describes this co-conspirator as a “political consultant who helped implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding.”
After Trump supporters stormed the Capitol Building, this co-conspirator helped Giuliani look for phone numbers of senators to call in an effort to delay the certification of electoral votes even more, the indictment states. The indictment also claims the person gave Giuliani names of lawyers in six states who might help with the effort to put together slates of false electors.
Various outside political consultants were in communication with Trump during the period after the election, but the indictment does not provide enough information to identify the person described as a co-conspirator.
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