Charges and Co-Conspirators, Explained – Rolling Stone

Donald Trump Indictment Explainer

Donald Trump has once again been criminally charged, completing a hat trick of indictments on Tuesday. For the third time this year Trump is facing charges, with the latest batch coming as a result of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into his and his allies’ efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and their role in the events of Jan. 6.

Trump will be arraigned at the Elijah Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. He will be fingerprinted digitally, but he won’t have his mugshot taken, according to NBC News. Trump will appear before Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya, alongside two of his attorneys, John Lauro and Todd Blanche. Cameras aren’t allowed in the courthouse.


Trump is expected, of course, to plead not guilty to all charges, as he did at his other two arraignments this year.

The 45-page indictment charges the former president with four criminal counts and lays out the Justice Department’s case against him. While allies and attorneys for Trump are already attempting to spin the charges as an unlawful criminalization of free speech, the evidence presented by the DOJ details the plans and actions taken by the former president and his inner circle in the final days of his administration in a last ditch effort to keep him in power. 

Many of the details in the indictment were revealed through previous reporting and the House Jan 6. Committee’s investigation, but the DOJ is the first law enforcement agency to lay out a criminal case against Trump over his attempted election subversion. Here’s a rundown of what’s in the latest indictment, and what might be coming next. 

What was Trump charged with? 

Trump was charged with four criminal counts:

  1. Conspiracy to defraud the United States: The indictment alleges that Trump and his allies knowingly conspired to “impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful federal government function by which the results of the presidential election are collected, counted, and certified by the federal government.”
  1. Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding: Trump is accused of conspiring to “corruptly obstruct and impede an official proceeding, that is, the certification of the electoral vote,” on Jan. 6. 
  1. Obstruction of, and attempt to obstruct, an official proceeding: This count relates specifically to actions taken by Trump to prevent the certification from taking place, rather than simply laying out plans.  
  1. Conspiracy against rights: This count alleges that Trump’s actions constituted a plan to violate the rights of U.S. citizens, “the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States — that is, the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted.” 

Who are the co-conspirators? 

The indictment references six unnamed co-conspirators who allegedly “[assisted Trump] in his criminal efforts to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election and retain power.” None of them have been charged, but Special Counsel Smith stated on Tuesday that the DOJ’s “investigation of other individuals continues,” a sign that more indictments could follow.

While the co-conspirators are not explicitly named in the indictment, their statements and actions laid out by the DOJ as evidence have made it relatively simple to pinpoint who’s who. 

“Co-conspirator 1,” described as “an attorney who was willing to spread knowingly false claims” and pursued dubious efforts to overturn the election, is former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. 

“Co-conspirator 2” refers to Trump campaign attorney John Eastman, who according to the indictment “devised and attempted to implement a strategy to leverage the Vice President’s ceremonial role overseeing the certification proceeding to obstruct the certification of the presidential election.” 

“Co-conspirator 3” is Sidney Powell, another attorney who spread false conspiratorial claims about the election which, according to the DOJ, Trump privately described as “crazy” despite embracing publicly.

“Co-conspirator 4” is Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department acting assistant attorney general. Clark allegedly “attempted to use the Justice Department to open sham election crime investigations and influence state legislatures with knowingly false claims of election fraud.”

“Co-Conspirator 5” refers to Ken Chesebro, an “attorney who assisted in devising and attempting to implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding.” 

“Co-conspirator 6,” however, is unclear. The indictment describes them as someone who “helped implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding.” The New York Times reported on similarities between messages sent between Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn and Rudy Giuliani and messages the indictment describes as being sent between co-conspirator 6 and co-conspirator 1, suggesting that Epshteyn may be the final co-conspirator.

What did we learn from the indictment? 

While the indictment opens by stating that Trump “had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election and even to claim, falsely, that there had been outcome-determinative fraud during the election,” the core of the indictment is that Trump and his allies actually conspired to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. 

A central scheme was the former president and his allies’ efforts to undermine the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6 — and to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence into aiding them in their plans. The indictment alleges that Trump “and co-conspirators organized fraudulent slates of electors in seven targeted states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico,  Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), attempting to mimic the procedures that the legitimate electors were supposed to follow under the Constitution and other federal and state laws.” 

In one notable interaction, when Pence told Trump that, in his interpretation of the law, there was no constitutional basis for the vice president to reject state’s legitimate electoral college votes, Trump responded with ire, allegedly berating Pence and telling him: “You’re too honest.”

The indictment further alleges that Trump and his allies attempted to weaponize the Justice Department in order to “conduct sham election crime investigations and to send a letter to the targeted states that falsely claimed that the Justice Department had identified significant concerns that may have impacted the election outcome,” and of further exploiting the authority if the DOJ to attempt to advance the fake elector’s scheme. 

On Jan. 6, Pence refused to carry out the plot, and Trump publicly singled out his own VP as a target for the crowds gathering outside the Capitol. Even as violence and chaos derailed the proceedings, Trump and his allies continued to attempt to contact Republican lawmakers in a last-ditch effort to convince them to delay the certification. 

What did Jack Smith say? 

That his investigation isn’t over. In a press conference following the indictment, Smith gave a short statement announcing the charges, and said that the Justice Department’s investigation “of other individuals continues.” 

Smith could be leaving open the possibility of criminal charges against the six unindicted co-conspirators named in the indictment. The special counsel has already shown that he won’t shy away from charging allies of the former president, or bringing additional charges where he sees fit. 

In June, Trump and his longtime aide Walt Nauta were charged in a separate investigation, also overseen by Smith, into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents. A month after filing the initial charges, Smith leveled a superseding indictment against Trump and Nauta, and charged a second Mar-a-Lago employee, Carlos de Oliveira, in connection with the investigation. 

Like the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation, Smith added that the DOJ would “seek a speedy trial so that our evidence can be tested in court and judged by a jury of citizens.”

“In the meantime, I must emphasize that the indictment is only an allegation and that the defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” he added.

What are Trump allies saying? 

The charges against the former president center on the actions he took to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, yet Trump’s allies are attempting to spin the indictment as an attack on free speech. John Lauro, the former president’s lead attorney on this case, sparred with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins when he attempted to make this point on air. 

Rudy Giuliani told Newsmax that Smith was sick with “Trump derangement syndrome,” and claimed that if the president could be indicted over their speech, then anybody – even the homeless – was at risk. 

Republican lawmakers have taken similar lines of response, with Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) questioning “how you can indict someone for claiming there was fraud in the election.” 


Fox News fell into hysterical spin mode even before the details of the charges were made public. Host Jesse Watters compared the legal cases against Trump to “political war crimes” akin to dropping “15 dozen” nuclear bombs on a target. 

When will Trump be arraigned? 

Trump is expected to be arraigned Thursday, August 3, at the Elijah Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C. He will reportedly undergo digital fingerprinting, but no mugshot will be taken. It will be Trump’s third arraignment on criminal charges in the past five months. He’s expected to plead not guilty to all charges.

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