During the Cohen trial last night, Trump was described as "Individual-1." Now I know they weren't trying to hide who this "Individual-1" was because they deliberately said that Individual-1 became President in 2017, which narrows the possibilities down to one person.

So I thought there must have been some legal reason why they didn't name Trump directly.

Why name him "Individual-1" rather than saying who he is directly?

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    This definitely does not sound like a politics question (+1), so I wouldn't worry about that. I agree with you in that the reference of person is unequivocal in this case, and therefore futile. My conjecture is that, this being a criminal matter, procedure dictates a higher level of protection of the identities implicated ... but (again) futile nonetheless. Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 11:16
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    This article alludes to a DoJ practice of not naming people other than defendants. A precise statement of this policy may be somewhere in the U.S. Attorney's Manual. It would seem that in this case, they have followed the letter rather than the spirit of that rule. Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 14:35
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    See Unindicted co-conspirator "The term unindicted co-conspirator was familiarized in 1974 when then U.S. President Richard Nixon was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in indictments stemming from the Watergate Investigation. Nixon was not indicted due to concerns about whether the United States Constitution allowed the indictment of a sitting President (see Executive privilege)." Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 16:45

2 Answers 2


Identifying someone as a criminal without charging them and thereby giving them an opportunity to clear their names has due process implications, largely because of the associated reputational damage.

DOJ policy therefore advises against naming unindicted co-conspirators:

Ordinarily, there is no need to name a person as an unindicted co-conspirator in an indictment in order to fulfill any legitimate prosecutorial interest or duty. For purposes of indictment itself, it is sufficient, for example, to allege that the defendant conspired with "another person or persons known." In any indictment where an allegation that the defendant conspired with "another person or persons known" is insufficient, some other generic reference should be used, such as "Employee 1" or "Company 2". The use of non-generic descriptors, like a person's actual initials, is usually an unnecessarily-specific description and should not be used.

The policy comes from a case where they did identify two unindicted (alleged) co-conspirators, and the Fifth Circuit ordered the expungement of the portions of the indictment that named them, agreeing with their claim that they had a right a due process right "to protect their reputations ... against the opprobrium resulting from being publicly and officially charged by an investigatory body of high dignity with having committed serious crimes." U.S. v. Briggs, 514 F.2d 794 (5th Cir. 1975).

At first blush, the description does seem to fall into the "unnecessarily specific" category, but note that the language doesn't actually say "Individual 1 became President in 2017," it says that Cohen's conduct occurred "in or about January 2017," and that Individual-1 had become President "at that point." So if the conduct occurred before noon on January 20, 2017, we'd be talking about President Obama.

That's obviously hyper-technical, but we are talking about the Department of Justice here.

Another possibility is that the success of the campaign/conspiracy may be necessary information for sentencing purposes. I'm not all that familiar with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, but my understanding is that a sentence may be reduced if a defendant had withdrawn from a conspiracy in time to prevent its fulfillment. Because that did not happen here, Cohen would not be entitled to that reduction.

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    – bdb484
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 16:09
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    I agree. There was no trial, just a plea allocution, which makes a difference. In the allocution, you're revealing facts from the indictment/information, but that Briggs case I cited discusses important differences between naming someone as a result of a grand jury investigation and naming someone in the course of an actual trial.
    – bdb484
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 16:13
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    Obama did not "become President" in January 2017. He became President in 2008 and 2012 (or maybe just 2008 -- being re-elected doesn't result in any change), and he was still President until Trump was inaugurated.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 21:24
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    I don't think anyone has suggested otherwise.
    – bdb484
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 21:36
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    Yeah, you're right. Although elsewhere in the document it refers to the campaign leading up to that. No other person who had become President at that time also had a campaign during the relevant time period.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 22:05

Essentially, the object is to not name a sitting President of the United States in an information, complaint, or indictment; as the Justice Department will not be prosecuting the sitting President of the United States. If there is any action to be taken in the matter against the sitting President of the United States, it will be in the form of impeachment by Congress.

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    The fact that it's the president is not relevant; they don't name unindicted co-conspirators in an indictment or information, regardless of who they are. See answer below.
    – bdb484
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 15:31
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    @bdb484 "The fact that it's the president is not relevant" That is not accurate in the present case. Else they would not have included the phrase "president of the United States" in the documents. There remains a live controversy. Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 15:37
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    @bdb484 The language of the plea agreement is almost akin to a trap; preying on the objectively known ego-driven or conversely inherently insecure characteristics of an unspecified "Individual-1" as a ploy to elicit a public admission of involvement. Almost using their affinity for absolute spotlight to lure them to make the public case for their own impeachment - using their own words; within the frenzy of the illusion of remaining on the attack; and as the center of the known universe, needing attention, words might be printed that can't be taken back. This is only day 1 following the plea. Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 15:57
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    The fact that Individual-1 became the president is relevant to the underlying proceeding. It's irrelevant to the decision to leave him unnamed.
    – bdb484
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 16:11
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    @bdb484 Your earlier comment stated: "The fact that it's the president is not relevant" You now state: "The fact that Individual-1 became the president is relevant to the underlying proceeding." Either the "president" is relevant or not. The facts of the case allegedly occurred before the unnamed individual became the President, correct? Yes, the fact that the live controversy involves the sitting President, which is expressly mentioned in the plea agreement, is very much relevant. The document is an agreement; negotiated; well-considered. References to "the president" are not idle words Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 16:17

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