ATLANTA — Attorney and prominent conservative media figure Jenna Ellis pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony charge over efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia, tearfully telling the judge she looks back on that time with “deep remorse.”
Ellis, the fourth defendant in the case to enter into a plea deal with prosecutors, was a vocal part of Trump’s reelection campaign in the last presidential cycle and was charged alongside the Republican former president and 17 others with violating the state’s anti-racketeering law.
Ellis pleaded guilty to one felony count of aiding and abetting false statements and writings. She had been facing charges of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, and soliciting the violation of oath by a public officer, both felonies.
“If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges,” Ellis said.
She rose to speak after pleading guilty, fighting back tears as she said she would have not have represented Trump after the 2020 election if she knew then what she knows now, claiming that she relied on lawyers with much more experience than her and failed to verify the things they told her.
“What I did not do but should have done, Your Honor, was to make sure that the facts the other lawyers alleged to be true were in fact true,” the 38-year-old Ellis said.
The guilty plea from Ellis comes just days after two other defendants, fellow attorneys Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, entered guilty pleas. That means three high-profile people responsible for pushing baseless legal challenges to Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory have agreed to accept responsibility for their roles rather than take their chances before a jury. A lower-profile defendant, Atlanta bail bondsman Scott Hall, pleaded guilty last month.
Responding to a reporter’s shouted question in the hallway of a New York City courthouse, Trump said he didn’t know anything about Ellis’ plea deal but called it “too bad” and said he wasn’t worried by it.
“Don’t know anything, we’re totally innocent of everything, that’s political persecution is all it is,” he said.
Steve Sadow, Trump’s lead attorney in the Georgia case, used Ellis’ plea to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the racketeering charges Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis brought against all 19 defendants.
“For the fourth time, Fani Willis and her prosecution team have dismissed the RICO charge in return for a plea to probation,” he said. “What that shows is this so-called RICO case is nothing more than a bargaining chip for DA Willis.”
He also noted that Ellis pleaded guilty to a charge that wasn’t in the original indictment and doesn’t include Trump.
She was sentenced to five years of probation along with $5,000 in restitution, 100 hours of community service, writing an apology letter to the people of Georgia and testifying truthfully in trials related to this case.
The early pleas and the favorable punishment — probation rather than prison — could foreshadow similar outcomes for additional defendants who may see an admission of guilt and cooperation as their best hope for leniency. Even so, their value as witnesses against Trump is unclear given that their direct participation in unfounded schemes will no doubt expose them to attacks on their credibility and bruising cross-examinations should they testify.
It is not known what Ellis told prosecutors or what documents she might share in the case. Rumors had swirled for weeks that Ellis might be among those seeking a plea deal — in part because of her public complaints that Trump was unwilling to pay her mounting legal bills.
The indictment in the sweeping case details a number of accusations against Ellis, including that she helped author plans on how to disrupt and delay congressional certification of the 2020 election’s results on Jan. 6, 2021, the day a mob of Trump supporters eventually overran the U.S. Capitol.
Ellis is also accused of urging state legislators to appoint a set of presidential electors loyal to Trump at a hearing in Pennsylvania, and she later appeared with some of those lawmakers and Trump at a meeting on the topic at the White House. The indictment further says she similarly pushed state lawmakers to back pro-Trump electors in Georgia as well as Arizona and Michigan.
Prosecutor Daysha Young said in court Tuesday that Ellis attended a December 2020 meeting of Georgia state senators with Trump attorney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and with Georgia-based attorney Ray Smith. Ellis “intentionally aided and abetted” the other two as they made false statements to the lawmakers, including that more than 2,500 people convicted of felonies, more than 66,000 people who were under 18 and more than 10,000 dead people voted in the 2020 election in Georgia, Young said.
Before her plea, Ellis, who lives in Florida, was defiant, posting in August on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, “The Democrats and the Fulton County DA are criminalizing the practice of law. I am resolved to trust the Lord.”
In February, Ellis hosted Trump on her syndicated program, “The Jenna Ellis Show,” during which she asked him to address “election integrity.”
“That is the number one question that I still get from very concerned citizens out there saying, ‘We want Donald Trump back in office,'” she said. “‘We want all of this, but how are we going to get there with such a corrupted system?'”
Ellis, who hosts a podcast for American Family Radio, publicly declared in September that she was unlikely to support Trump’s bid for the 2024 nomination. “I simply can’t support him for elected office again,” she said on her podcast. “Why I have chosen to distance is because of that frankly malignant narcissistic tendency to simply say that he’s never done anything wrong.”
Along with Giuliani, Ellis was a leading voice in the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, appearing frequently on television and conservative media make claims about widespread fraud and spread misinformation and conspiracy theories.
She was censured in Colorado in March after admitting she made repeated false statements about the 2020 election. As part of that proceeding, Ellis admitted that several statements she had made were false. She said she had acted with “a reckless state of mind” and told the court she had behaved with “selfish” motives. Her actions, she acknowledged, had “undermined the American public’s confidence in the presidential election.”
That punishment was due in part to a Nov. 20, 2020, appearance on Newsmax, during which she said, “With all those states (Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia) combined we know that the election was stolen from President Trump, and we can prove that.”
MEADOWS TESTIMONY, IMMUNITY
Mark Meadows, the final chief of staff to Trump, has been given immunity from prosecution in the election-interference probe against the former president in Washington and has testified before a grand jury hearing evidence in the case, according to a person familiar with the events.
In his testimony before the grand jury being used by special counsel John “Jack” Smith, Meadows said he repeatedly told Trump in the weeks following the conclusion of the 2020 election that claims of election fraud were baseless, according to the person, who asked not to be named discussing non-public information.
Meadows’ immunity deal was earlier reported by ABC News.
Meadows was a central player in the investigation under the purview of Smith and his staff exploring efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump had unsuccessfully fought a grand jury subpoena for testimony from Meadows and other former senior administration advisers. A federal appeals court cleared the way for Meadows’ appearance in April, but he remained conspicuously unseen at the federal courthouse in Washington where the grand jury sat, even as other ex-aides who were part of the earlier subpoena fight showed up to testify.
Speculation that Meadows might turn on his former boss and cooperate with federal investigators began after the Justice Department declined to prosecute him for refusing to comply with a subpoena to turn over documents to the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. He had handed over more than 2,000 text messages to the committee, but then waged his own, ultimately unsuccessful court fight to contest the subpoena.
The Jan. 6 committee’s report, released in December, relied on witness testimony and other information — including Meadows’ own messaging — to place him in the thick of a series of key meetings and actions inside the White House during the run-up to the U.S. Capitol attack, as well as other activities and communications on the day of the riot.
Meadows was not among the six unindicted co-conspirators described in the August indictment returned against Trump.
Information for this article was contributed by Will Weissert, Kate Brumback and Eric Tucker of The Associated Press, Holly Bailey and Amy Gardner of The Washington Post and by Chris Strohm and Zoe Tillman of Bloomberg News (TNS).