Trump will not be tried alongside two others in Georgia’s election case next month, judge rules

ATLANTA (AP) — Donald Trump will not go on trial in Georgia next month after a judge ruled Thursday that the former president and 16 others accused of illegally trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election should be tried separately two other defendants in the case will face trial.

Attorneys Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro had made calls for a speedy trial, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee scheduled the trial to begin Oct. 23. Trump and other defendants had asked to be tried separately from Powell and Chesebro, with some saying the case could not be ready by the late October trial date.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis secured an indictment against Trump and the others last month. He charged her under the state’s anti-crime law, accusing her of participating in an illegal plot to deny Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over the Republican incumbent. All defendants pleaded not guilty.

Willis had pushed for all 19 defendants to be tried together, saying it would be fairer and more efficient. McAfee cited the tight schedule as a factor in his decision to separate Trump and 16 others from Powell and Chesebro.

“The Court’s uncertain ability to protect every defendant’s due process rights and ensure adequate pretrial preparation under the current expedited pathway weighs heavily, if not decisively, in favor of severance pay,” McAfee wrote. He added that it may be necessary to divide the remaining 17 defendants even further into smaller groups for trial.

The development is likely welcome news for other defendants who want to avoid being linked by prosecutors to Powell, who perhaps more than anyone in the Trump camp has publicly advocated for publicly promoting baseless conspiracy theories that include foreign ones Linking governments to election interference.

Another defendant in the Atlanta case, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, tried to distance himself from Powell and spoke extensively about her in an interview with special counsel Jack Smith’s team in Washington, according to a person not authorized to know his report. to discuss the matter publicly and speak on condition of anonymity.

Chesebro and Powell had sought to be tried separately, but the judge denied that request as well.

Chesebro is accused of working to coordinate and implement a plan to have 16 Georgia Republicans sign a certificate falsely declaring that Trump won and that they themselves were among the “duly elected and qualified” Explain to voters in the state. Powell is accused of being involved in a theft of voting machines in rural Coffee County.

The nearly 100-page indictment details dozens of alleged actions by Trump or his allies to overturn his 2020 defeat in Georgia. That includes suggesting that the secretary of state, a Republican, could help find enough votes for Trump to win the battleground state; Harassment of a poll worker who faced false allegations of fraud; and trying to persuade Georgia lawmakers to ignore the will of voters and appoint a new slate of electors favorable to Trump.

McAfee said he was skeptical of prosecutors’ argument that a joint trial of all 19 defendants would be more efficient. He noted that the Fulton County Courthouse does not have a courtroom large enough to accommodate 19 defendants, their attorneys and others who would need to be present, and that moving to a larger venue could raise security concerns.

Prosecutors had also said that each defendant will be charged under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act), and the state plans to call the same witnesses and present the same evidence at every trial in the case. They told the judge last week that they expected each trial to take four months, not including jury selection.

However, McAfee noted that each additional defendant increases the time for opening statements and closing arguments, cross-examinations and evidentiary objections. “Even if the State’s case remains the same in length and the total time invested by the court is increased, the jury burden for each individual trial will be reduced by shorter individual trials,” he wrote.

The judge said he would try to seat a jury by Nov. 3 to meet Powell and Chesebro’s demands for a speedy trial. “With each additional defendant included in the voir dire process, an already Herculean task becomes less likely,” he wrote.

When Willis was asked about the judge’s ruling at an unrelated news conference Thursday, she said her office was capable of trying large cases. “We are not afraid of large-scale RICO charges and are here for the job and ready to go,” she said.

McAfee also noted that five defendants are currently seeking to have their cases moved to federal court and that litigation on the matter is ongoing. If they succeed in the middle of a state court case, it’s not clear what impact that would have, McAfee wrote.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones last week rejected an offer from Mark Meadows, Trump’s final White House chief of staff, to move his case to federal court. Meadows is appealing that ruling. The other four have hearings before Jones next week.

Meadows and three of the others had asked McAfee to drop the case in state court while their efforts to go to federal court are still pending. The judge denied this request.

Meadows had also asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the order sending his case back to state court while his appeal was pending. On Thursday, he withdrew that request, citing the appeals court’s approval of an expedited review and McAfee’s scheduling order for the defendants not to go to trial next month.

Also on Thursday, McAfee held a hearing on the motions of Chesebro and Powell, both of whom are seeking the names of the unindicted co-conspirators mentioned in the indictment and seeking to speak to the jurors who rejected the indictment. Chesebro wants transcripts, records and reports from a special grand jury that assisted in the investigation.

Prosecutors agreed to release the names of the unindicted co-conspirators but rejected the other two requests. McAfee said he would rule on those two matters later.

Kate Brumback reports for The Associated Press.

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Sudhin Thanawala contributed to this report.