A few days before the 2020 election was set to be certified by Congress, attorney Jenna Ellis sent President Donald J. Trump a memo suggesting a way for him to stay in power by altering the normal course of American democracy heads up.
In the memo, Ms. Ellis, who had little experience in constitutional law, gave Mr. Trump the advice he also got from far more experienced lawyers outside the government: to put pressure on his vice president, Mike Pence, who would oversee the certification ceremony he called for on Jan. 6 2021 at the Capitol not to open Electoral College votes from six key swing states that Mr. Trump lost.
While Mr. Pence ultimately rebuffed Mr. Trump’s pleas, prosecutors in Georgia later accused Ms. Ellis of helping to develop a strategy to “interfere and delay” the election certification and of working closely with pro-Trump lawyers such as Rudolph W. Giuliani a wide-ranging extortion case.
On Tuesday, Ms. Ellis pleaded guilty to some of those charges in a court hearing in Georgia, in which she tearfully agreed to cooperate with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office as it continues to prosecute Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani and more than a dozen other people.
During her hearing, Ms. Ellis told the judge that she had relied on lawyers who had “many more years of experience” than herself, a potentially ominous sign for Mr. Giuliani in particular.
A spokesman for Mr. Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
With her guilty plea, Ms. Ellis became the fourth defendant – and the third attorney – in the case to reach a cooperation agreement with Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis. What began as a trickle last week, when two more pro-Trump lawyers — Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro — pleaded guilty and agreed to take the state’s testimony, looked like a flood after Ms. Ellis’ appearance in court out of.
While one person familiar with Ms. Ellis’ thinking described her as extremely angry with Mr. Giuliani, their collaboration could also be dangerous for Mr. Trump. Ms Ellis was on Mr Trump’s team until the end of his term – and he has refused to help her with her legal fees ever since. And unlike many others swirling around the former president, she had a direct relationship with Mr. Trump and was in contact with him at various points while he was in the White House.
If Ms. Ellis, Ms. Powell and Mr. Chesebro all take the stand in the end, they could actually paint a detailed collective picture of Mr. Trump’s activities in the post-election period. Their reports may include the thinking behind the frivolous lawsuits filed on his behalf challenging the election results and the role Mr. Trump played in a plan to create false voter rolls claiming he had won states he had won had not achieved.
They could address a brazen plan rejected by Mr. Trump to use the military to seize the country’s voting machines. And they could detail his efforts to persuade Mr. Pence to unilaterally throw the election against him on January 6 – an effort that prosecutors say helped inflame the mob that stormed the Capitol.
Steven H. Sadow, the lead lawyer representing Mr. Trump in the Georgia case, said the series of pleas shows that “this so-called RICO case is nothing more than a bargaining chip” for the district attorney in charge of the prosecution, Fani T. Willis. He added that Ms. Ellis had pleaded guilty to a charge that was not part of the original indictment and that “does not even mention President Trump.”
Ms. Ellis, a former prosecutor from a mostly rural county north of Denver, first caught Mr. Trump’s attention when she appeared on Fox News, where she advocated for some of his policy positions – including his immigration policies. Mr. Trump officially hired her as a campaign adviser in November 2019.
The following year, she was among the people Mr. Trump often spoke to as Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country, including in Washington. The local protests, some of which took place near the White House, infuriated Mr. Trump and he sought people to confirm his desire to use federal government force to stop them.
After Mr. Trump lost the election, Ms. Ellis quickly joined a self-proclaimed “elite task force,” a group of lawyers that included Ms. Powell and Mr. Giuliani, and began pushing the false narrative that the presidential election had been rigged.
In mid-November 2020, she appeared at a news conference in Washington where, as a dark liquid dripped down Mr. Giuliani’s face, Ms. Powell advanced an outrageous conspiracy theory that a voting machine manufacturer called Dominion had used its voting software to flip thousands of votes away from Mr Trump to his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
As Ms. Powell and other lawyers began filing a flurry of lawsuits challenging the election results, Ms. Ellis embarked on a travel roadshow of sorts, accompanying Mr. Giuliani to key swing states for informal hearings with state lawmakers where they presented allegations to Mr. Trump had been cheated out of victory.
For about a week in November and early December 2020, Ms. Ellis sat next to Mr. Giuliani at meetings in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan and Georgia. Their presence at these events, prosecutors said, often involved direct appeals to state officials to either overturn the election results or join in the so-called sham election scheme.
Even after Mr. Trump left office in 2021, he urged Ms. Ellis to maintain the idea that he could be renominated president.
From Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, he encouraged various people – including conservative writers – to promote the idea that the effort to overturn the results was ongoing and that there was still one Possibility could be returned to the White House.
As Mrs. Ellis
According to two people with direct knowledge of the discussion, Mr. Trump acknowledged that it would be “almost impossible” but said he wanted to keep the idea floating. It was an early sign of tensions with the former president.
Ms. Ellis has already said that she knowingly misrepresented the facts in several of her public claims that voter fraud led to Mr. Trump’s defeat. These admissions came as part of a disciplinary process conducted this spring by Colorado state attorney general officials.