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What Sidney Powell’s Guilty Plea Means for the Case Against Trump
The “kraken” lawyer is cooperating with prosecutors, and jury selection is getting underway for the first trial of a Trump co-defendant.
IN RECENT WEEKS, THE NINETY-ONE CRIMINAL COUNTS collectively lodged against former President Donald J. Trump in four different indictments across four jurisdictions have largely been pushed from the headlines. But the calendar keeps zipping along regardless, and there have been some major developments.
Jury selection begins on Friday in the first case to go to trial as part of the Georgia indictment brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis—a sweeping racketeering and election-interference case against Trump and eighteen co-defendants. Here are three big things to know:
1. Two of nineteen defendants have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Last month, former poll watcher and bail bondsman Scott Hall pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of conspiring to commit intentional interference with the performance of election duties. Prosecutors recommended a sentence of five years’ probation and a $5,000 fine. Hall also agreed to testify against the other defendants.
On Thursday, another surprising plea. Asked by Fulton County prosecutor Daysha Young, “How do you plead to the six counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with performance of election duties?,” former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell responded, “Guilty.”
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Powell was sentenced to six years’ probation (twelve months for each count), a $6,000 fine, and $2,700 in restitution to be paid to the state of Georgia. She also has to write an apology letter to the citizens of Georgia and testify truthfully at trial—she cannot plead the Fifth. The first trial starts on Monday in Fulton County, Georgia, against another lawyer and co-defendant, Kenneth Cheseboro, who reportedly rejected a similar plea deal last month. Having invoked their constitutional and statutory right to a speedy trial, Powell and Cheseboro are the only two defendants whose cases were set for trial next week.
In addition, Powell is banned from “having any communication” with her co-defendants, including Donald Trump, who on Tuesday was similarly slapped with a gag order by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in the January 6th criminal case pending in Washington, D.C. If Powell complies with the terms of her plea, she will evade a lifelong criminal record. If she lies on the stand or talks to Trump—whom she frantically supported in his bid to subvert the 2020 election—the deal is off, and she faces more serious charges than the six misdemeanors she pleaded guilty to. Georgia prosecutors already know what Powell will say at trial because she gave a recorded statement and agreed on Wednesday night to turn over documents.
2. Don’t be surprised if Hall and Powell produce some jaw-dropping testimony.
Here’s a refresher of what we know about the involvement of Hall and Powell in the Georgia election interference scandal and, more broadly for Powell, the plot to steal the 2020 presidential election that culminated in the events of January 6th.
Hall was captured on a surveillance video while spending hours inside a restricted area of the Coffee County, Georgia election office on January 7, 2021, when voting systems were breached by illegally copying “ballot images, voting equipment software and personal voter information” in a pro-Trump effort to find voter fraud. In a recorded telephone conversation, Hall stated that “We scanned every freaking ballot.” He later told the special grand jury that he gained access to a voting machine.
Powell also pleaded guilty to illegally accessing voting machines in Coffee County in a purported effort to investigate possible voter fraud. Although her lawyer recently insisted that she did nothing wrong and acted with explicit permission from local officials in breaching the election equipment, emails and documents indicate that she was personally involved in arranging for a computer forensics team to travel to Coffee County to copy data from elections machines.
This mini-story in the broader election-stealing effort should be a big deal politically. Trump and his GOP enablers, in their shameless bid to raise money and win over MAGA voters, falsely accuse the other side of ballot-tampering—meanwhile, members of Team Trump have now admitted to doing that very thing themselves.
Powell is also a defendant alongside Rudy Giuliani in a $1.3 billion civil defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Her defense, as told to a federal judge in Washington, D.C., in March 2021, is that “no reasonable person” would believe her false claims of voter fraud. She also claimed in a filing that her statements were not defamatory because she made them “as an attorney-advocate for her preferred candidate and in support of her legal and political positions.” Recall too that in 2020, she vowed on Fox News to “release the kraken” of evidence that was supposed to prove that Trump had won the election, and that she would later tout baseless conspiracies involving Venezuela, Cuba, China, George Soros, Hugo Chávez, and the Clintons.
Trump cut ties with Powell in November 2020, but she later attended an Oval Office meeting with Trump, his former national security advisor Mike Flynn (who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his Russian contacts and was later pardoned), and Giuliani during which they allegedly discussed seizing voting machines. Trump also toyed with the notion of naming her special counsel to investigate voter fraud.
3. Assuming Cheseboro’s trial goes forward, it will reveal a lot about the strength of the case against Trump.
On Friday at 7 a.m. EDT, 450 potential jurors will appear at the Fulton County, Georgia courthouse to begin the process of jury selection, which starts with their completion of an electronic questionnaire. The judge overseeing the case, Judge Scott McAfee, has ruled that Cheseboro’s lawyers can also submit questions to the grand jurors who together handed down the indictment against him and the others. The judge made clear in his response to this unusual request that the grand jurors are under no compulsion to answer the questions from the lawyers for the defense.
District Attorney Willis alleges through the indictment that Cheseboro helped coordinate a plan to have sixteen Georgia Republicans sign false certificates identifying themselves as “duly elected and qualified electors” and declaring Trump the winner of the state’s Electoral College votes.
State investigators recently uncovered over 15,000 emails and other documents connected to another co-defendant, Misty Hampton, who was the former election supervisor for Coffee County and also allegedly involved in the breach of the voting system. It is Hampton, according to Powell’s earlier claims, who authorized Powell to copy the Coffee County voting information. Hampton’s involvement came to light in connection with a civil lawsuit, in which her attorneys claimed that the same emails had been lost shortly before her termination from her post in February 2021.
Cheseboro’s trial is expected to last five months. Trump and the others will be tried together at a later trial, the date of which is not yet set.
Whether Powell’s and Hall’s testimony will hurt Trump’s defense remains to be seen. Powell’s counsel claims that she “did not represent President Trump or the Trump campaign” following the election, although Rudy Giuliani introduced her as one of “the senior lawyers” representing Trump during his 2020 campaign. Having participated in a news conference shortly after the election at the White House, at a minimum Powell can testify as to conversations she had with Trump that could reveal what he knew about the true election results and what he intended to have happen in the lead up to the January 6th insurrection.
Powell’s testimony could be important to Special Counsel Jack Smith, too, as she’s believed to be one of the unindicated co-conspirators in the federal January 6th case. According to testimony obtained by the House January 6th Committee, Trump privately described her as “crazy.”