The blame game in Donald Trump’s inner circle has begun.
And as his four criminal cases head towards trial, some of his advisers, allies and co-defendants point to the former president.
In court documents and hearings, attorneys for those close to Trump—both senior advisers and lesser-known associates—are revealing signs of a proven strategy in multi-defendant cases: Play as an unlucky pawn when stacking blame on the apparent lead man.
“History has shown the 18 co-defendants that Donald only cares about himself,” said Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, referring to the 18 people charged alongside Trump Case of electoral crime in Georgia.
“I suspect that each defendant will decide for themselves,” added Cohen.
He should know: He was once Trump’s versatile fixer but is now a key witness against him New York criminal case It’s about hush money payments to a porn star.
Cohen broke with Trump years ago. But in recent weeks, Trump allies who are or may be at risk in connection with three of his four pending criminal cases have shown they could follow Cohen’s lead.
An information technology assistant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in late August changed its history dramatically over alleged efforts to delete surveillance video and agreed to work with Special Counsel Jack Smith, who has indicted Trump Hoarding secret documents. Aide Yuscil Taveras was not charged in the case, but his turn could help him avoid a possible perjury charge being floated by prosecutors — and is likely to ease Smith’s obstruction of justice proceedings against Trump and two other aides strengthen.
Then three GOP activists charged with Trump in Georgia for trying to prevent the state from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory claimed that their actions were all at Trump’s behest.
And last week, Mark Meadows, former Trump White House chief of staff who is also indicted in the Georgia case, hinted his defense will likely consist of blaming the former president as the main driver of the effort.
It is not uncommon for co-defendants facing a lengthy prison sentence to point fingers at each other to appear less guilty to a potential jury. But it has seldom turned out so extraordinarily that the alleged ringleader is a former president.
during one hearing in AtlantaA Meadows defense attorney drew attention to Trump’s prominent role in what is certain to be a pivotal element in prosecutors’ case there: the infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call in which Trump demanded that Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican , “find” enough votes to declare Trump the winner.
Meadows arranged this crucial call. But after prosecutors played audio of the call in the courtroom, a lawyer for Meadows emphasized that his client’s part in the actual discussion was both smaller and less provocative than Trump’s.
“There are many statements by Mr Trump. “Mr. Meadows’ speaking roles were quite limited,” Meadows’ attorney, Michael Francisco, noted when he cross-examined Raffensperger, who was being asked to testify by the prosecution.
“He didn’t ask you to change the total number of votes – Mr. Meadows himself?” Francisco continued.
“Right,” Raffensperger replied.
Though Francisco made the point cautiously, you could almost hear the squeaking of the bus tires. Of course, Trump made such a request — something defense attorneys didn’t need to mention directly, since the entire courtroom had just heard Trump’s voice doing just that.
That strategy could intensify as the Georgia case gets closer to a jury. The case involves numerous defendants whose alleged role is far less than that of Trump or his top associates. If a jury holds Trump primarily responsible for the events following the 2020 election, the less prominent co-defendants appear less guilty by comparison.
“If you’re one of the less important players strategically, you definitely want to be in the same process with Donald Trump. All the attention will be on him,” said Scott Weinberg, a Florida-based attorney who represented one of the Oath Keepers in a high-profile lawsuit related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. “They don’t want the little people, they want Trump. You are always compared to who you are standing next to.”
Weinberg knows this from experience. His client, David Moerschel, was convicted by a jury, along with three other defendants, on seditious conspiracy charges earlier this year. But in a similar trial involving Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes – the alleged leader of the seditious plot to overthrow the government – the jury was out came to a much more differentiated judgment That blamed Rhodes most of the time.
Attorneys involved in the case argued that Rhodes’ presence in the courtroom may have helped others appear less guilty to the jury, leading to a mixed verdict.
That could be a particularly significant phenomenon and an incentive for those charged alongside Trump in Georgia. Three of them — David Shafer, Cathleen Latham, and Shawn Still — said in court filings recently that nearly all of the charges they face stem from orders from Trump and his attorneys.
The three GOP activists all posed as pro-Trump presidential voters and signed documents claiming they were Georgia’s legitimate voters even though Biden had won the state. In their lawsuits seeking to have their prosecution transferred to federal court, they all said they took the step at Trump’s “direction.”
The fake voter system plays a key role in both the Georgia indictment and the indictment separate federal case accusing Trump of plotting to overthrow the election. Trump’s campaign attorneys, acting on Trump’s behalf, urged Republicans in Georgia to rally and sign papers falsely claiming to be presidential voters. Lawyers said the effort would salvage Trump’s legal battle to reverse the election results. But after those efforts failed, Trump pointed to the fake voter lists to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally overturn the election results.
Meadows, in his own testimony at last week’s hearing, made it clear that Trump viewed the wrong voters as an essential part of his strategy to remain in power. He said he sent an email urging the campaign to compile those lists because he feared Trump would punch his tongue out at him.
“What I didn’t want was for the campaign to win in court and for that not to happen,” he said.
“Why?” prosecutor Anna Cross asked him.
“Because I knew the President of the United States would yell at me,” he said.
Additional evidence compiled by federal and state prosecutors and the House Special Committee on Jan. 6 showed that days before the presidential election session, Trump spoke to Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel to make her understand how important it is to compile the wrong electoral lists. During that phone call, he connected her to John Eastman, a lawyer who was helping him devise his ultimate strategy to stay in power. Eastman is among the accused in the case of Georgia.
Another criminal defense attorney closely following Trump’s trial posited another motive for those who want to blame Trump for the actions they took: Trump will likely make a blanket claim of executive immunity from all charges.
“Ultimately, Trump will assert broad presidential immunity and everyone else will be subject to his authority,” said attorney William Shipley.
John Lauro, Trump’s attorney in the federal election case, recently signaled that he intends to file such a sweeping petition for immunity to try to quash the allegations.
Many of the defendants in the Georgia case have already begun to target individual gain. Chesebro’s attorneys demanded that his trial begin next month, which could result in his trial being separated from other big players like Trump or Rudy Giuliani. Others have asked to be tried alone, which could make it harder for them to point the finger at Trump but also mean their jury would not hear from anyone specifically defending the former president.
As pressure on Trump’s allies continues, prosecutors are also raising questions about funding that Trump’s political committees are providing for some defendants. Meanwhile some accused and defense attorneys Have complained about bills they believe Trump shouldn’t be paying and reimbursement rates they say are pathetically low.
Trump officials recently said that one of the president’s political action committees, the Save America PAC, spent $40 million in legal fees in the first half of this year.
There is no public list of those whose legal fees are paid from Trump’s political coffers.
The federal campaign finance records list the payments to law firms, but do not identify the names of the clients or the issues at stake.