Another plea deal in Georgia election case could increase danger for Trump | ET REALITY


Just before Christmas 2020, when President Donald J. Trump was running out of options to avoid losing the election, Kenneth Chesebro wrote an email to a group of other lawyers who were considering filing a last-ditch lawsuit to overturn Trump’s defeat. .

The odds of winning the lawsuit did not look good, Chesebro wrote, putting them at just “1 percent.” But while his efforts were unlikely to prevail in court, Chesebro suggested that Trump continue pushing his baseless fraud claims.

“The relevant analysis,” Chesebro argued, according to emails reviewed by The New York Times, “is political.”

On Friday, Chesebro pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of conspiracy to file false documents in Georgia and agreed to cooperate with local prosecutors who have charged Trump and 17 others in a sprawling racketeering indictment, accusing them of tampering with the election. in the state.

News of their cooperation agreement came a day after Sidney Powell, another lawyer who tried to help Trump stay in power, reached a similar agreement with authorities. Last month, an Atlanta bail bondsman with a minor role in the alleged conspiracy also agreed to plead guilty.

“The three people who have pleaded guilty so far have apparently avoided jail time and I think that is a clear signal for other defendants to decide whether or not they want to plead guilty and cooperate,” said Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor and high Commissioner. FBI officer.

But Chesebro’s deal could present a more serious threat to Trump than the others, given that he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge involving both the former president and some of his closest allies.

Chesebro also corresponded extensively with other pro-Trump lawyers charged in the case and played a central role in one of Trump’s main plans to stay in office: a plan to create slates of pro-Trump electors in states such as Georgia. , which Trump had actually lost.

Chesebro, a New York lawyer with an Ivy League pedigree, was the first of several lawyers involved in the so-called fake elector scheme to decide to turn over the state’s evidence in either of the two election interference cases Trump faces. (While Ms. Powell filed lawsuits making absurd claims that the election had been rigged against Trump, she had no direct role in creating fake electors.)

The electors’ plan became a vital part of the final strategy pursued by Trump as he and his allies sought to find a way to block or delay Congress’ certification of his Electoral College defeat. When Trump ordered his supporters to march to the Capitol on January 6, 2021, Chesebro was among them, accompanying conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to the Capitol grounds. (It does not appear that Chesebro entered the Capitol illegally when the march turned into a riot.)

If Chesebro takes the stand in Georgia, he could provide an insider’s perspective not only on the legal advice he provided to Trump, but also on another important issue: the roles that other lawyers, including John Eastman and Rudolph W. Giuliani, played in the false voters scheme.

Furthermore, having put in writing that some of Trump’s post-election legal maneuvers were feints undertaken for political purposes, Chesebro could also undermine one of the defenses the former president could use in both elections. processing.

If Chesebro were to testify that Trump’s lawsuits challenging his loss were not designed to win, but simply ploys to sow doubt about the election, he could run counter to Trump’s possible plan to use so-called counsel. defending. That strategy involves blaming lawyers for giving bad advice.

Beyond his role in the state case in Georgia, Chesebro was also identified, although not by name, as co-conspirator 5 in the federal election case brought against Trump in August by special counsel Jack Smith. That indictment described him as a lawyer who helped design and implement “a scheme to submit fraudulent lists of presidential electors to obstruct the certification process.”

Smith’s indictment cited several emails (some of which were first made public by The New York Times) that showed lawyers working on the fake elector scheme expressing reservations about whether the scheme was honest or even legal to begin with. . In one of the emails, Chesebro wrote to Giuliani that two pro-Trump voters in Arizona were “concerned” that the plan “might seem like a betrayal.”

Smith’s indictment also mentions a memo Chesebro wrote in December 2020 as Trump and his legal team were looking for ways to reverse his loss to Joseph R. Biden Jr. In the memo, Chesebro acknowledged that the bogus election plan was “a strategy bold and controversial” that was “probably” rejected by the Supreme Court.

But just like in the email he would send that Christmas, Chesebro said the plan had value even if the Supreme Court rejected it. Creating fake voters would accomplish two goals, the memo said. They would focus attention on allegations of voter fraud and “give the Trump campaign more time to win litigation that would deprive Biden of electoral votes and/add to Trump’s column.”

Steven H. Sadow, the lead attorney who defended Trump in the Georgia case, said of Chesebro’s plea deal: “It appears to me that the guilty plea on count 15 of the Fulton County indictment was the result of the pressure from Fani Willis. and her team and the imminent threat of prison from the prosecution. However, it is very important for everyone to note that the RICO charge and all other charges were dismissed.”

Sadow said, as he had about Powell’s guilty plea the day before, that he hopes “truthful testimony” will help his defense strategy.

It was unclear what effect Chesebro’s cooperation agreement in Georgia might have on Smith’s federal election case. Like Powell, Chesebro has not been charged in Washington and if he were subpoenaed to testify there against Trump, he could still avoid taking the stand by exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

On the other hand, if he testified in Georgia, any statements he made from the stand would be fair game for Mr. Smith’s prosecutors if they ultimately decided to file charges.

“Cheseboro and Powell are unindicted co-conspirators in a pending federal indictment. That could make it difficult for them to take the stand in Georgia because truthful answers under oath in that jurisdiction could expose them to criminal liability in the federal case,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

“There’s also an open question about how credible they might be – given some of the outlandish claims they made – to a Georgia jury,” he said. “Any good prosecutor would have to weigh the costs and benefits of putting any of them on the stand.”

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