Jack Smith’s latest indictment of Donald Trump isn’t yet two weeks old, but the alleged “co-conspirators” it identifies are already beginning to turn on each other — and some of them aren’t even being subtle about it.
A number of the ex-president’s chief lieutenants and alleged co-conspirators in the plot to overturn the election, such as conservative attorney John Eastman, have insisted the effort was perfectly legal and based on sound evidence. Others, however, have recently sought to distance themselves from the efforts of others, implicitly heaping the blame for any potential criminal conduct onto fellow participants in Trump’s attempted coup.
“It is the ‘please don’t put me in jail, put that other guy in jail’ strategy that was sure to come up at some point or another,” says one attorney working in Trump’s legal orbit.
Attorneys for veterans of Trump’s post-election activities like Rudy Giuliani and Kenneth Chesebro — both of whom have been identified as among the six unnamed “co-conspirators” in the most recent federal indictment of Trump — are now casting blame toward others on the campaign’s legal team or people close to the then-president. Giuliani and his lawyer are now openly trashing and blaming the “crackpot” alleged activities of Sidney Powell, another lawyer who worked on Trump’s post-election efforts. On top of that, Chesebro, the key architect of Trump’s fake-electors ploy, is now trying to downplay his involvement in the effort, spreading the possible blame and criminal exposure elsewhere.
And in recent weeks, Trump and his own lawyers have made abundantly clear that part of their legal defense will lean heavily on “advice of counsel” arguments — in other words, it will involve scapegoating attorneys who were only doing what Trump instructed them to do, or wanted them to do.
Prosecutors appear to be only too happy to seize on these divisions. Sources who’ve been in the room with special counsel staff tell Rolling Stone that in the past several weeks, the special counsel’s office has signaled that they intend to put pressure on the half dozen “co-conspirators” listed in the Trump indictment. Representatives of the special counsel’s office also appear unusually well-briefed on the existing fissures between members of the Trump post-election endeavors, according to those who have spoken with the office.
The feud between Giuliani and Sidney Powell — another attorney and alleged Trump co-conspirator — is among those probed by prosecutors, sources with knowledge of the situation say. Recent witnesses have offered up details on the behind-the-scenes animosity between the two attorneys. They’ve also told investigators their accounts of the former New York mayor’s private antics during the months following Election Day 2020.
Adding to the intra-MAGAland tensions overflowing into public view, Robert Costello, Giuliani’s lawyer, attempted to put as much space as possible between his client and some of Powell’s work to keep Trump in power, emphatically telling CNN: “Rudy Giuliani had nothing to do with this” and “you can’t attach Rudy Giuliani to Sidney Powell’s crackpot idea.”
Powell in particular has been a major focus of the special counsel’s office, as recently as within the past several days, as Rolling Stone reported last week, with certain Trump allies already providing the Justice Department with what they view as incriminating evidence against Powell.
“If I were the feds, and I wanted to build cases against the [so far unindicted] ‘co-conspirators’ to apply maximum pressure to them, to see what they’d … have to say about the [former] president, this is exactly how I’d do it,” says one person intimately familiar with recent questioning.
It’s “highly probable that several others will be charged,” the person says. “Jack Smith is not slowing down.”
The possibility that one of Trump’s former advisers could turn state’s witness and testify against either him or his aides or close associates is already apparent to the twice-impeached former president.
This summer, Trump has asked some of his political and legal advisers to name who — especially among those investigated or questioned by the special counsel’s office — they believe to be the most “vulnerable” and likely to crack under pressure from prosecutors, according to two people who’ve heard him ask about this.
Last week, longtime Giulian associate and Trump ally Bernie Kerik sat for a nearly five-hour, voluntary interview with special counsel staffers, and his attorney pointed the finger for over-the-top election fraud claims at Trumpist diehard Powell. Kerik is not among the six unindicted alleged co-conspirators, but was asked by federal investigators to offer his accounts relating to multiple alleged Trump co-conspirators and other topics.
“Sidney Powell’s conduct stands in stark contrast to that of Rudy Giuliani and President Trump, who were looking to only make claims that could be backed up by evidence,” Tim Parlatore, Kerik’s lawyer, argues to Rolling Stone. Parlatore previously served as one of Trump’s top attorneys who were handling the Jack Smith probes.
Kerik’s lawyer continues: “Having Sidney Powell in the same courtroom would also significantly undermine [Jack Smith’s] case against the president, because the president and his lawyers could easily point at Sidney and say: Over there is the evidence of making knowingly false claims, not here. And President Trump rejected Ms. Powell’s efforts.”
This is a sentiment shared by Giuliani, and also by various senior members of Trump’s own team who would be thrilled if Powell ended up as one of the people who take the fall for the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and the efforts leading up to it, sources close to Giuliani and the former president say.
As for Chesebro — the attorney accused of being an architect of the Trump team’s bogus-electors scheme — he too has hinted that he may be trying to distance himself from the campaign’s effort to swap in slates of fake electors. That is, now that the fake-elector plans have become a central focus of the Department of Justice’s sprawing criminal investigation.
In a statement sent last week to Rolling Stone, Chesebro’s attorney drew a distinction between the memos his client authored for the campaign and how the campaign acted on them. “Whether the campaign relied upon that advice as Mr. Chesebro intended,” attorney Scott Grubman wrote, “will have to remain a question to be resolved in court.”
Conspicuously, Chesebro’s lawyer added: “We hope that the Fulton D.A. and the special counsel fully recognize these issues before deciding who, if anyone, to charge.”
Unlike other prominent Trump-aligned attorneys, Chesebro lacks an extensive pedigree in the conservative movement. At Harvard Law School, he studied under the liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe and attended a fundraiser for another Tribe law student — Barack Obama — back in 2004.
The statement, first released to Rolling Stone late last week by Chesebro’s lawyer, prompted some more raised eyebrows and speculation among the upper echelons of Trumpland.
According to two people with direct knowledge of the situation, the statement, along with other chatter about Chesebro’s recent moves, has led some of Trump’s lawyers and several members of the ex-president’s inner orbit to wonder if the architect of the fake-electors plot was trying to shovel all blame and potential criminal liability for that very plot on to Trump and his loyalists.
“These concerns have been shared with the [former] president,” one of these sources says.
On Sunday, Chesebro’s attorney declined to comment on this matter.
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