Trump accomplices plead guilty, drawing noose tighter around former president
Former Trump lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell. | Fulton County Sheriff's Office / AP

ATLANTA—The guilty pleas by Donald Trump election fraud lawyer Sidney Powell, and, more importantly, lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, creator of Trump’s “fake electors” scheme in Georgia, are drawing the legal noose ever tighter around former Republican Oval Office occupant Trump.

And they’re doing it in a way that guarantees Fulton County (Atlanta) District Attorney Fani Willis doesn’t have to show her hand in advance in the electoral racketeering case before she puts Trump in the dock—because as part of their pleas, the two pledged to sing. So says a former Georgia D.A. who’s worked with Willis.

Powell and Cheseboro pled guilty in Fulton County Court last week to charges in the sprawling racketeering case, triggered by Trump’s demand—after he lost the 2020 election—to Georgia Secretary of State and top elections official to Brad Raffensperger “find me 11,780 votes” to give Trump a one-popular-vote win in the key and swing Peach State and its 16 electoral votes.

In the testy, and taped, hour-long phone call, Raffensperger, a constitutional conservative and a Republican, adamantly refused, saying the hand-count of the entire state showed no vote fraud.  Raffensperger will be a key witness when Willis brings the remaining co-defendants—the case began with Trump and 18 others—into open court.

Powell and Chesebro were the second and third to plea bargain and agree to testify. This trial, a criminal case involving felonies and jail terms, will be televised.

Interviewed on MSNBC by moderator Alex Wagner on “Alex Wagner Tonight” on Oct. 22, two days after Chesebro’s plea, former DeKalb County D.A. Gwen Keyes explained how Willis’s strategy works and why it’s moving ever closer to Trump. The city of Atlanta is split between Fulton and DeKalb Counties, so the two D.A.s have worked together.

“If you look at the indictment, Mr. (John) Eastman, Mr. (Rudy) Giuliani, and the former president are all listed in this count—Count 15 of the original indictment,” Keyes told Wagner. “You notice with Ms. Powell, they created a separate accusation of misdemeanors,” which she pled to.

Eastman, a now-disbarred California lawyer and law professor, crafted another part of Trump’s scheme to overturn the 2020 results, by having Vice President Mike Pence either reject Joe Biden electors and accept fake Trump electors from key swing states or just reject the Biden electors. Pence refused.

“This is a felony,” Keyes said of Chesebro’s plea, “and it has several people named as coconspirators. Well, one of the conditions of this plea is that he made a proffer to the District Attorney and that he has to testify against the other codefendants. We’ve seen D.A. Willis. She’s very smart, she’s very strategic. I can’t imagine she has not allowed him to provide incriminating evidence against other defendants.

“If you’re Rudy’s lawyer right now, what would your advice be?” Wagner followed up. Giuliani is the former New York City mayor who has also had his law license suspended for lying under oath about the non-existent fraud to Georgia lawmakers. He was Trump’s consigliere in the elections fraud and racketeering case. Giuliani also publicly apologized for slandering two Georgia election vote counters—both African-American women—by alleging they committed fraud. They didn’t.

“I think you’re going to see other defendants start to fall,” former DA Keyes replied. “Look at the progression here. Both Ms. Powell and Mr. Chesebro had motions before the court and the motions don’t go their way. And then you see within five or so days that they don’t want to risk going to trial and possibly have a felony conviction with jail time.

“I think you’re going to see that with Mr. Giuliani and several of the other defendants as well, as their motions start to get decided.”

The more defendants follow the two Trump lawyers in guilty pleas, the less evidence Willis has to show in open court before she finally tries Trump, Keyes pointed out.

“Not only does she (Willis) get to keep it under the hood, but now she has two more witness statements that she didn’t have at the beginning of the week, building a stronger and stronger case against all of the 16 defendants that remain.”

The guilty pleas by the two and their promises to sing will also be important in the federal civil case Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith has brought in U.S. District Court in D.C. for Trump’s role in aiding, abetting and arranging the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite insurrection, invasion and coup d’état attempt at the U.S. Capitol.

“If you look at Jack Smith’s case, Ms. Powell was co-conspirator #3 and Mr. Chesebro was co-conspirator #5, so they were warned that pleading in this case might have implications in the federal case. Now we’ll have to wait and see if there’s a global deal in the federal case,” she said.

For a prosecutor, especially in a racketeering and/or conspiracy case—and the charges in Atlanta cover both—working your way upwards from secondary players to big fish is common. Offer the small fry more lenient sentences, which is what Willis did in return for turning state’s evidence.

Chesebro is already carrying out his part of that bargain, another legal analyst on MSNBC, Barbara McQuade, said on October 21. Chesebro was sentenced to five years’ probation and 100 hours of community service and was ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution, write an apology letter to Georgia’s residents, and testify truthfully at any related future trial.

“He has provided a recorded proffer of his testimony,” she told the interviewer. “That testimony can help convict some of the other people in this case. Including John Eastman. Including Donald Trump.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.