The story so far: The Georgia state election fraud case, where former U.S. President Donald Trump and 18 allies were criminally indicted in August, has returned to centre-stage following a string of plea deals struck with the Fulton County district court. By late October, four out of 18 defendants, three lawyers and a bail bondsman, pleaded guilty to abetting a conspiracy to subvert the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, where Mr. Trump lost to President Biden.
Who are these Georgia witnesses?
On October 19, lawyer Sidney Powell pleaded guilty to six misdemeanours, following accusations of conspiracy to intentionally interfere with the conduct of elections. One of Mr. Trump’s closest allies, Ms. Powell had in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential race advanced the theory that the Dominion Voting Machines company, in collusion with Venezuelan intelligence, conspired to flip the ballot to Trump’s opponent. This is the claim that lies at the heart of several federal suits she filed, only to be subsequently dismissed. Ms. Powell had then counselled Mr. Trump to handover the country’s voting machines to the military and rerun the presidential contest. Another potential witness against Mr. Trump could be Jenna Ellis from Colorado, also a lawyer and a social media activist. On October 24, Ms. Ellis pleaded guilty to a felony count of amplifying the false claims made about the election before the state senate by co-defendants including Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani. Among these are staggering statements that more than 10,000 dead people had voted, that thousands of mail-in ballots had been counted erroneously and that thousands of felons had illegally exercised their franchise in Georgia. Ms. Ellis admitted in her plea deal that she had failed to do due diligence on the veracity of the information.
A third pro-Trump lawyer, Kenneth Chesebro, has also pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of conspiracy of filing false documents, in a deal that saw all other charges dropped, including conspiracy to commit first degree forgery and impersonating a public officer. In the chaos that ensued in the 2020 election, Mr. Chesebro earned notoriety as one of the masterminds behind the so-called fake elector scheme designed to circumvent the outcome in seven States. Under this plan, Republican party officials posed as pro-Trump electors with fake documents and competed with pro-Biden electors, to pronounce a Trump victory. The rationale behind the scheme was to sow confusion at the time of certification of the electoral college results, allege voter fraud and ultimately overturn the outcome in Mr. Trump’s favour.
The plea deals the four have negotiated in exchange for agreeing to cooperate in the trial and testify against other defendants, possibly escaping jail sentences, could prompt some of the others to turn themselves over. The more the number of such pleas, the greater the prospects of the prosecution isolating Trump loyalists for a successful trial. Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff and conservative attorney John Eastman were all prominent figures in the campaign to circumvent the 2020 election verdict. The sordid affair eventually culminated in the January 6, 2021 mob violence on Capitol Hill.
What about the federal indictment relating to election fraud?
The Georgia indictment is independent from a separate federal indictment authorised by a grand jury in August on the former president’s bid to cling to power. Headed by Special Counsel Jack Smith, the investigation in a Washington federal district court has charged Mr. Trump with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., to disenfranchise voters and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding. The special council has so far sought to indict only Mr. Trump and has identified six co-conspirators who are not mentioned by name. The lawyers Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell, who secured a plea deal in Georgia, are among the six unindicted co-conspirators in the federal indictment.
The writer is Director, Strategic Initiatives, AgnoShin Technologies.