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Former DOJ prosecutor on why Trump indictment leaves co-conspirators unnamed


In the 45-page indictment against former President Trump, federal prosecutors lay out their timeline of Trump's alleged conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, what he did, when he did it and who he did it with. But on that last point - who? - prosecutors don't explicitly name any of Trump's associates. Instead, the indictment simply refers to them as co-conspirators one, two, three, four, five and six. For more on the possible legal strategy here, we turn now to Leslie Caldwell, former assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LESLIE CALDWELL: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

CHANG: So why not name these co-conspirators? What do you think the thinking is behind that?

CALDWELL: So, of course, I don't know. But what I would guess is they're trying to keep the case as streamlined and straightforward as possible for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the more people who are co-defendants in a case, the longer the case will take to get tried.

CHANG: Right.

CALDWELL: So there's obviously some belief and desire to get this case across the finish line in a timely fashion, which if there were six defendants instead of one probably would not happen.

CHANG: Of course. OK. Well, how likely is it that any of them would cooperate in the coming weeks or months with prosecutors, do you think?

CALDWELL: So I think sometimes you list that there are unindicted co-conspirators - either they already are cooperating, or you hope they'll cooperate. I don't think either of those things is true here. We've seen no sign that any of these people, assuming that we've identified them correctly, are cooperating or even thinking about cooperating.


CALDWELL: I also think that the government might not actually even want them as witnesses, but that's obviously not my judgment to make.

CHANG: Well, let me ask you a little bit more about that because I'm curious. By listing but not naming these co-conspirators, does that make them less likely to testify for the defense if there is a trial? - because maybe they would be worried about their own possible legal jeopardy. Do you think that was also a consideration?

CALDWELL: I would suspect not. I think they probably all are already worried about their own possible legal jeopardy because they all know what activity they engaged in. So I don't think that this is any kind of an effort to keep people away from the witness stand. They obviously will have Fifth Amendment rights, which they can invoke if they're called by the government to testify, which I don't think they will be. But if they voluntarily testify on their own for the defense, then obviously, they will put themselves in further peril.

CHANG: OK. Though, I mean, given that you assume that prosecutors wouldn't want them to take the stand anyway and that it's not likely the defense would call them as witnesses, does the fact that these co-conspirators - the fact that they were not named, does it make it any more likely that Trump himself might have to testify?

CALDWELL: You know, I think that that's going to be really interesting to see how that plays out. It's his instinct, it seems, in most circumstances to give his version of things. But this is a very dangerous setting in which to do that. He would be subject to cross-examination by very experienced prosecutors. And he would put his own safety in further jeopardy if he were to go down that path.

CHANG: Right. So how likely is it that his attorneys would actually want him to testify? You think if you were representing him, you would advise him not to?

CALDWELL: I would say that most attorneys would advise him not to testify under these circumstances, partly because the story that he has to tell, at least as far as we know it, appears to be consistent with the government's theory of the case. And also, I think he's probably an extremely difficult person to control in terms of what he'll actually say, regardless of the amount of preparation that you might have beforehand.

CHANG: OK. I want to return to your original point that by not naming these several co-conspirators, it was a way to streamline the case. Could that therefore increase the chances that all of this will be wrapped up before November 2024? What's your sense of the feasibility of the timeline?

CALDWELL: So I think that realistically, it could be very much wrapped up before then. I don't know. I don't have enough of a sense of the district court in D.C. to know what their kind of normal cadence is in terms of how quickly things go to trial. I know in some districts they have what's called a rocket docket where things go very quickly. Other districts, things drag on sometimes for years. So I understand - I don't know this judge, but I understand that she's very well regarded. And I expect that the case will be moved along at an appropriate pace.

CHANG: OK. And then finally, just in the 30 seconds or so that we have left, you know, we have some basic biographical details about the various co-conspirators and their various roles. Was any particular description a stand-out to you in terms of them getting described in this indictment? What struck you?

CALDWELL: So I think the one that was most disturbing to me as a former DOJ lawyer was the description of co-conspirator four, which I'm assuming is Jeffrey Clark, the former Justice Department official.


CALDWELL: I think that, you know, just reading what he was accused of doing, it really goes well beyond anything I'd ever seen.

CHANG: All right. Leslie Caldwell, former assistant attorney general, thank you.

CALDWELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.

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