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ATLANTA — Kenneth Chesebro, a former lawyer for Donald Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia against Trump himself.
Chesebro became the second former Trump lawyer in as many days to accept a plea deal in the sprawling conspiracy case. The guilty plea came just hours after jury selection began, ahead of an expected trial next month.
Chesebro pleaded guilty to a single felony count of conspiracy to file false documents and accepted a sentence of three to five years probation, a $1,000 fine, $5,000 in restitution to the state of Georgia, a letter of apology, 100 hours of community service and a promise to testify truthfully to all other co-defendants in the case if they go to trial.
The charges relate to Chesebro’s role in organizing meetings of pro-Trump voters in seven states where Joe Biden won. According to details of the amended indictment read in open court, prosecutors allege that several other co-defendants were part of the conspiracy: Trump, four other lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani, and a campaign aide. Chesebro signed the amended indictment, but it was not clear whether he had provided prosecutors with evidence related to the alleged roles of these other defendants.
Chesebro’s guilty plea follows that of pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell on Thursday, making him the third co-defendant to plead guilty to criminal racketeering in the case. It accuses Trump and 18 allies of violating Georgia law as they tried to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory in the state. In addition to Powell, bail bondsman Scott Hall also pleaded guilty earlier this month. All have agreed to testify against others in the case.
The plea is the latest legal victory for Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D), whose office is prosecuting the Georgia case. In addition to exposing one of the key players in the alleged conspiracy, prosecutors are now avoiding a trial in which they would have had to present much of their evidence against Trump and others, potentially giving other defendants’ lawyers a legal advantage in their trial.
The possibility of incriminating testimony from three of Trump’s co-defendants could have far-reaching implications for the legal status of the former president as well as some other high-profile defendants, particularly Giuliani, who was allegedly involved in the Powell case and Chesebro’s efforts to overturn Trump’s loss.
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Chesebro is a graduate of Harvard Law School and has, among other things, assisted then-Vice President Al Gore’s legal team in the 2000 Florida presidential election recount. Seven criminal charges have been filed against him for his alleged role as the legal architect of a scheme aimed at taking advantage of Trump voters in Georgia and other key states to undermine the legitimate votes of the 2020 Electoral College and flip the election to the Republican nominee.
Chesebro’s guilty plea came after a morning of courtroom intrigue. He was seen entering the courthouse early Friday morning but did not appear along with Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, prosecutors and defense attorneys as the judge met with 450 potential jurors who had been asked to fill out a questionnaire. talked about the case.
Around noon, prosecutors entered McAfee’s courtroom and were later joined by Chesebro and his legal team. Chesebro, who originally pleaded not guilty, smiled and appeared to be in a good mood. He was seen writing what his attorney, Scott Grubman, later identified as the apology letter required as part of his plea agreement.
Grubman later viewed the plea deal as a win for his client. If he adheres to the terms of his probation, the charge will be removed from his record under the first-offender terms of the deal. Additionally, the plea agreement does not describe the crime to which Chesebro pleaded guilty as “morally reprehensible.” According to Grubman, this was intended to allow Chesebro to continue practicing law.
Chesebro pleaded not guilty to the charge that all 19 defendants in the case initially faced – participating in a racketeering enterprise. When speaking to the judge, he indicated that he was not prepared to admit guilt on some of the allegations.
“Are you pleading guilty today because you believe there is a factual basis for moving forward with this charge?” McAfee asked, to which Chesebro pointedly replied, “Yes, this charge.”
After Chesebro pleaded guilty, his attorney asked McAfee if his client’s probation case could be moved to Puerto Rico, his current residence. McAfee said this could “complicate” the terms of his probation, and Chesebro agreed to stay in Atlanta for a few days to work out the details.
“Was he planning on leaving today?” McAfee asked Grubman.
“He was planning on being here for three to six months,” Grubman replied, drawing laughter as he pointed to the now-averted trial that was scheduled to begin early next month.
The amended indictment detailed a series of activities by Chesebro that the state said he would present evidence of at trial, including a central role in devising a plan to rally Trump voters and an intent to disrupt congressional proceedings January 6, 2021 to disrupt Chesebro’s own participation in the protest outside the U.S. Capitol that day. Chesebro nodded as the details of the charges were read and later signed the document.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Grubman said the deal “proves that he was not and never has been the architect of any fraudulent election scheme or anything like that,” and said that without prosecutors, Chesebro would not have gotten a no-jail-time plea deal believed he was trying to “overthrow democracy.”
Although he said his client has agreed to testify against other co-defendants, Grubman said he and Chesebro would be surprised if he were called as a witness in a future case. “He didn’t betray anyone,” Grubman said. “He just decided it was time for him to put it behind him and move on with his life.”
Prosecutors did not comment after the hearing because the case against the 16 remaining co-defendants is still ongoing. No trial date has been set.
Through his lawyers, Chesebro had claimed that he was merely presenting legal opinions to his client, the Trump campaign, and had unsuccessfully attempted to block the use of memos and other emails he sent to Republicans across the country and other Trump campaign employees sent to block in court.
Chesebro’s testimony could affect several of his co-defendants. The 98-page indictment portrays Chesebro as a central player not only in the summoning of emergency voters, but also in the “strategy to disrupt and delay the joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
The seven felony charges he faced included conspiracy to forge documents and conspiracy to file false documents, as well as violating an anti-racketeering law originally aimed at dismantling organized criminal groups. Chesebro was not charged in the separate federal case against Trump. Prosecutors referred to him only as “Co-Conspirator 5” and said he was behind “a corrupt plan to undermine the functioning of the federal government by preventing the votes of Biden voters from being counted and certified.”
Trump voters are also at the center of a case in Michigan, where a prosecutor told a judge this week that she had reached a cooperation agreement with one of the 16 Republicans who signed official-looking documents falsely claiming Trump had that state won.
A judge in Michigan dismissed charges against Trump voter James Renner on Thursday, but neither side made public the terms of prosecutors’ agreement with him.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) charged Renner and 15 others in July with eight felony counts each, including forgery and conspiracy to commit forgery. The prosecution against the others has not yet been completed.
As the hearing ended Friday, Chesebro stood in the courtroom and swiveled his chair to face the dozen reporters who were there to cover his surprising guilty plea.
“How do you feel?” one asked.
Chesebro said nothing as he slowly tilted his chair forward into the courtroom. His plea agreement prohibits him from speaking to the media about the case.
Gardner reported from Washington. Patrick Marley in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.
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