In the Nixon years, not “all the president’s men” went to jail. Four of Nixon’s closest aides — John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson — were imprisoned for their transgressions; three others were indicted but narrowly escaped conviction. Those around Donald Trump face a similar fate.
Seven members of Trump’s post-election legal team — Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Jeffrey Clark Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro, John Eastman and Ray Smith — find themselves among the 19 defendants, including Trump, who stand indicted in Georgia. If convicted, neither Trump nor any other president will have the power to pardon them. The court has granted Powell and Chesebro a speedy trial, and they will be tried together beginning late next month. A quick trial often means a quick conviction.
In Jack Smith’s federal case in Washington, Trump is the sole defendant, but six unindicted lawyers with pseudonyms like “Co-Conspirator 1,” were, according to the indictment “enlisted … to assist him in his criminal efforts to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election and retain power.” Five of the six are clearly identifiable from their descriptions in the indictment: Giuliani, Eastman, Powell, Clark and Chesebro. Additionally, political apparatchik Boris Epshteyn, also a lawyer, is thought to be “Co-Conspirator 6,” though no one knows for sure.
“I am being indicted because I am a lawyer,” Giuliani said with pious indignation outside the Georgia court house. But, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has stated has stated, “doctors and lawyers have been known to commit crimes.”
Then there is Mark Meadows, Trump’s fourth and last White House chief of staff — not a lawyer, but a close adviser, who is also among those charged. The conduct of Meadows in connection with the attempted coup is particularly significant. White House chief of staff is a very important job. As Chris Whipple, author of the important book “The Gatekeepers,” observes, the chief of staff must be the “president’s gatekeeper, confidant, honest broker of information, ‘javelin catcher’ and the person who oversees the execution of his agenda. But the chief’s most important duty is to tell the president hard truths.” Meadows, Whipple argues, fell far short of the task.
Interestingly, the dichotomy between official duties and personal conduct figures strongly in Meadows’s case. Indicted by Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis, he is appealing his unsuccessful effort to remove his case to the federal court. Everything he did, he argues, was accomplished in the course of his official duties as White House chief of staff. Really! Meadows is the guy who allegedly helped Trump in arranging Oval Office meetings with key players and participating in the infamous “find 11,780 votes” phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger. Meadows also traveled to Cobb County, Ga., where he tried to barge into an election audit meeting. Georgia officials slammed the door in his face — as did the federal district judge.
Others in Trump World find themselves with big bills to pay. Trump’s PAC, while footing Trump’s legal bills to the tune of $40 million, has refused to underwrite the legal fees of Giuliani, Ellis or Eastman as their troubles begin to mount.
Giuliani faces a big judgment in the defamation action brought in D.C. by Georgia election workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman. District Judge Beryl Howell has just entered a default judgment against him as a sanction imposed by the court for Giuliani’s failure to provide discovery.
Giuliani not only suffers a financial penalty, with the amount of compensatory and punitive damages he must pay to be determined. He will also be responsible for paying the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. Republican strategist Rick Wilson was prescient when he entitled his 2018 book “Everything Trump Touches Dies.”
The “usual suspects” closest to Trump were not the only ones recruited to upend the election result. Norman Eisen, a topnotch former federal prosecutor and fellow at Brookings, has constructed a rogue’s gallery of more than 1,200 people who put Trump’s plot against the republic in motion. The construct demonstrates that Trump put together a band of brothers resembling a mafia org chart. The frightening thing about this revelation is how many people were prepared to go to the mat for Trump — and how close they came to succeeding.
Many in Eisen’s ugly cast of characters will pay dearly for their involvement with Donald Trump. Others will not. But Trump is central to the conspiracy. There are four criminal cases naming Trump as a defendant containing 91 felony counts, 44 federal and 47 state charges. In addition, there are the serious civil actions, already brought in at least three states, alleging that Trump is disqualified from holding public office by reason of Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. That one for sure is headed for the Supreme Court.
In the eyes of the law, Trump is presumed to be innocent, but we can assume there was some basis for the 91 felony charges against him. His first trial is set for March 4 in Washington. He might be convicted before the election. Can it happen that an indicted man, much more a convicted felon, can become the 47th president of the United States?
As Cicero sighed some 2,100 years ago, “O tempora! o mores!”
James D. Zirin, author, and legal analyst, is a former federal prosecutor in New York’s Southern District. He is also the host of the acclaimed public television talk show and podcast Conversations with Jim Zirin.
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