It turns out it wasn’t just a bad day for Trump, as I captioned my column Thursday night. It was a bad week. A really bad week.
After Sidney Powell’s guilty plea, there was Kenneth Chesebro’s plea. His was to a felony charge of filing false information, but like Powell, he spends no time in prison and will be eligible under Georgia’s first-time offender provision to have his record expunged after he completes his probationary sentence successfully.
Some folks have expressed concerns about these “light” sentences. Keep your eyes on the prize here. The goal is to hold folks accountable and to keep flipping lower level defendants against ones who are higher up the food chain, more culpable. Powell and Chesebro, both lawyers, have just admitted in open court that they committed crimes in connection with the Georgia election. Both have given prosecutors taped statements. We don’t know what’s in them, but prosecutors found sufficient value in the evidence each defendant had to offer to extend very favorable plea deals. Both Powell and Chesebro are obligated to testify truthfully at trial—if they don’t, they lose their deals, which is a pretty good guarantee they won’t back pedal.
Donald Trump isn’t the only highly culpable defendant in the Fulton County case, even if he’s the most important target of the prosecution. Chesebro, a Harvard educated lawyer, was the architect behind the fake electors scheme. In one memo he authored, Chesebro acknowledged that he was promoting a “controversial strategy” that even the Supreme Court, with its conservative supermajority, would “likely” reject. He suggested that there were political, as opposed to legal, reasons to move forward with it. The plan was discussed in conversations that took place among the lawyers. There is likely more to it than what is publicly known, and interestingly, Chesebro’s plea obligates him to turn over documents to the government as well as to testify. We don’t know what might be in his emails and text messages or who he might he be able to offer additional evidence against. The possibilities include at least Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark, and Jenna Ellis (who, with her publicly expressed grievance over paying her own legal fees, looks like she could be poised for a guilty plea of her own as the case moves forward). They’re all candidates for Chesebro to cooperate against. In other words, it’s not just about obtaining additional testimony against Trump, it’s also about obtaining testimony to encourage defendants who are closer to Trump to plead guilty as well.
Chesebro wrote an entire series of memos in 2020 that acted as road maps for the fake slates of Trump electors in each state. He did that in Georgia, of course, but that wasn’t the only state where the Trump campaign ran the fake electors ploy. Chesebro acknowledged in court that he “created and distributed false Electoral College documents” to Trump operatives in Georgia and other states, and that he worked “in coordination with” the Trump campaign (emphasis added). So, it’s easy to see how his testimony could help not just Fani Willis, but Jack Smith too. “The defendant provided detailed instructions to co-conspirators in Georgia and other states,” a prosecutor told the Judge on Friday when detailing Chesebro’s conduct. Chesebro had to acknowledge that the prosecution’s statement was correct as part of his colloquy with the Judge. Before accepting a guilty plea, the judge must ensure that a defendant understands what he’s pleading guilty to and is doing so voluntarily. That means Chesebro can’t walk back the “other states” part of what he knows about.
There’s an additional advantage to obtaining guilty pleas from both Powell and Chesebro, and it’s more bad news for Trump. There will be no early trial, no opportunity for other defendants to get a preview of Fani Willis’ case. Willis is down from 19 defendants to 16 defendants, and she hasn’t even struck a jury yet. [Continue reading…]