Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers have an astonishing knack for getting into trouble.
Look no further than the final conclusions of the January 6th committee, which singled out Trump’s top legal advisors for possible violations of criminal law.
The committee accused Trump of breaking four laws in the course of attempting to hold on to power after losing the 2020 election. And Trump had plenty of help pursuing his nefarious schemes, the panel alleged—primarily from the guys normally tasked with keeping their client out of legal hot water.
Trump’s lawyers, to the contrary, often seem to revel in cranking up the temperature. The committee singled out lawyers John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani, Jeffrey Clark, and Ken Chesebro for further investigation by the Department of Justice as potential Trump co-conspirators.
The committee accused Trump of conspiracy, inciting or assisting an insurrection and obstructing an official proceeding. Trump’s attorneys played key roles in his efforts to overturn the election, according to the committee, alongside Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
“Former President Trump did not engage in a plan to defraud the United States acting alone,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland on the committee. “He entered into agreements formal and informal with several other individuals who assisted him with his criminal objectives.”
These are hardly the only Trump lawyers to face questions about whether their actions while serving the man elected 45th president of the United States were, as Trump himself once put it, “very legal (and) very cool.”
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen spent years as Trump’s private attorney and so-called “fixer” before pleading guilty to criminal charges in 2018 and receiving a three-year sentence for tax evasion and other crimes.
In August, the Department of Justice detailed in a court filing how two Trump attorneys, Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb, might have misinformed government attorneys about whether, and where, sensitive government documents were being held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. The episode prompted Bobb to hire a lawyer and step away from Trump’s legal cases.
Giuliani, Trump’s longtime personal attorney, has already received a so-called “target letter” from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, signaling that he is likely to face a criminal charge in the Peach State. Willis is investigating the Trump team’s efforts to overturn his electoral defeat in Georgia, which Trump lost by a margin of less than 12,000 votes.
Congress can’t file criminal charges by itself, which means that its criminal referrals are ultimately a symbolic request for the Department of Justice to act. Most legal experts say the referrals won’t have a big impact on what the DOJ does next.
Still, now that the committee has wrapped up its work, the question becomes how federal prosecutors will handle the same events covered in the panel’s report—as part of an aggressive investigation now headed by Special Counsel Jack Smith.
Conspiracy to defraud the United States
The committee said several Trump associates appeared to be co-conspirators with Trump in a so-called “conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
The statute, put simply, makes it unlawful to launch a scheme to disrupt a regular function of government. It’s often used against people accused of trying to stop the IRS from collecting taxes. In this case, though, it’s about attempts to flip the result of an election.
The committee specifically referred Trump to the Department of Justice for conspiracy to defraud the United States over his attempts to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election on January 6, 2021.
That’s what Congress was in the middle of doing when Trump revved up a crowd of MAGA followers on the Ellipse just south of the White House and sent them toward the Capitol building—where they ran amok, resulting in multiple deaths and hundreds of arrests.
By linking Trump’s lawyers to Trump’s efforts to disrupt Congressional certification of Biden’s win, the committee is effectively saying that Trump broke the law with a little help from his friends.
The panel noted that federal Judge David Carter had reviewed the facts surrounding Trump’s multi-part plan to overturn the election as part of a legal dispute over documents earlier this year, and that the judge concluded: “The illegality of the plan was obvious.”
A key component of the scheme was cooked up by Eastman, who served for years as a professor at Chapman University before becoming a private attorney and informal advisor for Trump. He famously drafted a memo outlining steps Vice President Mike Pence could take to keep Trump in power, which involved rejecting the certification of electoral votes from states won by Biden.
Pence rejected Eastman’s ideas despite spending years as one of Trump’s most loyal allies.
The committee also referred Eastman to the DOJ, alongside Trump, for potential prosecution for under another statute, obstructing an official proceeding.
In a statement, Eastman dismissed the significance of the committee’s actions.
“A criminal ‘referral’ from a congressional committee is not binding on the Department of Justice and carries no more legal weight than a ‘referral’ from any American citizen,” Eastman said. “In fact, a ‘referral’ from the January 6th committee should carry a great deal less weight due to the absurdly partisan nature of the process that produced it.”
The panel also linked Clark to the 371 scheme. Clark was once a relatively obscure DOJ lawyer whom Trump wanted to appoint as acting Attorney General before backing away from the idea due to the threat of mass resignations.
“Jeffrey Clark stands out as a participant in the conspiracy,” the committee wrote.
The committee wrote that Clark entered into an agreement with Trump to send a letter to state officials “falsely stating that the Department of Justice believed that State legislatures had a sufficient factual basis to convene to select new electors.”
But, the committee wrote, “this was false—the Department of Justice had reached the conclusion that there was no factual basis to contend that the election was stolen.”
The DOJ searched Clark’s home and seized his phone pursuant to a search warrant in June. Asked for comment on the committee’s findings by VICE News, a lawyer for Clark said Wednesday that he did not immediately have a response.
Other Trump allies were also linked to this particular alleged conspiracy.
“The conspiracy under Section 371 appears to have also included other individuals such as Chesebro, Rudolph Giuliani, and Mark Meadows, but this Committee does not attempt to determine all of the participants of the conspiracy, many of whom refused to answer this Committee’s questions,” the committee wrote.
Giuliani was the lone advisor to support Trump’s inclination to declare victory on election night, during an evening which Giuliani “appeared to be inebriated,” the committee wrote.
A Giuliani spokesman told CNN: “Mayor Rudy Giuliani wasn't drinking election night and we have multiple in-person witnesses on the record to back this up. Anyone saying otherwise is either mistaken or shamefully lying about Mayor Giuliani—an honest, good American who has dedicated his life to serving others and doing the right thing.”
Trump has repeatedly denied wrong-doing, and dismissed the committee and the various criminal probes swirling around him as part of a broad-ranging witch hunt waged by his Democratic opponents.
“These folks don’t get it that when they come after me, people who love freedom rally around me,” Trump wrote in a statement on his social media site, Truth Social. “It strengthens me. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”