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Fani Willis Makes Trump Team Turn

By A.J. Firstman | Last updated on

Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis' racketeering case against Donald Trump and 18 of his lawyers, former lawyers, and allies appears to be gaining momentum.

First filed in mid-August 2023, the indictment lays out a long list of alleged crimes committed by Trump and his team in the aftermath of Trump's loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Trump faces 13 felony charges in the case.

Many of the charges are predicated on or informed by Mr. Trump's well-publicized actions, including an infamous call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Mr. Trump repeatedly urged Mr. Raffensperger to "find" exactly enough votes to overcome the lead by which President Joe Biden defeated him in the state even after the votes had been counted, hand recounted, and certified by Georgia's Republican election officials.

Mr. Trump and all 18 of his co-defendants pleaded not guilty to the wide range of charges against them. Four of the 18 have flipped their pleas from not guilty to guilty in the last two months.

Political Racketeering

The case against Trump and his team was brought against all 19 co-defendants under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, effectively linking the defendants together by arguing that they were acting together in pursuance of a shared criminal goal. The Act was originally intended to aid prosecutors' ability to link the higher-ups who gave the orders in criminal organizations with the subordinates who carried out the crimes – usually with the hope that the subordinates would make deals with the prosecution to provide evidence or testimony against their bosses in exchange for more favorable treatment. So far, the case is playing out like a quintessential RICO prosecution.

Four of Trump's co-defendants have flipped on him so far, including three of the lawyers he employed as part of his plan to overturn the election in Georgia.

Sydney Powell

Sydney Powell is a lawyer who was employed by Donald Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 election. She is best known for spreading widely debunked conspiracy theories, misinformation about the results of the election, and her promise of a massive trove of evidence of fraud that she called the "Kraken." This evidence never materialized, however.

Georgia prosecutors also criminally charged her for being heavily involved in a conspiracy to breach voting machines in Coffee County, Georgia, where she illegally collected voter information to unsuccessfully prove her claims of voter fraud. She pleaded guilty ahead of her trial and agreed to work with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Her deal included pleading guilty to six counts of conspiracy to interfere with election duties and admitting that she conspired with local election officials to breach voting machines in Coffee County. Provided she holds up her end of the deal – which may not be a given, considering the public statements she's made contradicting her plea agreement since it was struck – she will be compelled to testify against Donald Trump and other defendants and receive to up to six years of probation, a $6,000 fine, and $2,700 in restitution to replace the broken election equipment. She will also have to write a letter to the people of Georgia admitting and apologizing for her crimes.

Kenneth Chesebro

Kenneth Chesebro was charged with helping develop and enact the Trump campaign's plot to subvert the election by selecting and putting forward slates of false electors in Georgia and six other states. Chesebro was the author of a series of memos that initially spelled out the fake elector strategy, helped coordinate Trump's efforts to enact the plot, and provided his co-conspirators with detailed instructions on how to create and distribute the false documents required to make the fake elector strategy work.

Chesebro's plea deal requires him to admit his role in concocting and implementing the plot, pleading guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit false documents, and testify against his other co-defendants.

His punishment includes five years of probation, $5,000 in restitution, and another letter apologizing to the people of Georgia for attempting to illegally overturn the election.

Jenna Ellis

Jenna Ellis is an attorney with little to no experience in constitutional law who provided Donald Trump with advice on how to press then Vice President Mike Pence to disrupt, delay, and overturn the certification of the election. Despite the illegality and constitutional impossibility of the advice that Ms. Ellis offered, Mr. Trump both listened and attempted to put her plan into action. Mr. Pence ultimately refused, and the election was certified on January 6, 2021 after a delay due to the unprecedented insurrection attempt instigated by Mr. Trump.

Ms. Ellis pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aiding and abetting false statements and writings, and has agreed to fully cooperate with prosecutors moving forward. She will be required to serve five years of probation, pay $5,000 in restitution, and perform 100 hours of community service. She has already written her letter apologizing to the people of Georgia.

She also took the interesting step of giving a statement to the court, in which she implicated Rudy Giuliani for her actions and expressed remorse for her role. Her emotional statement in court was contradicted by public statements she made almost immediately afterward.

Loyalty vs. Self-Preservation

Fani Willis' team has reportedly proposed deals to at least six other co-conspirators in Mr. Trump's Georgia election fraud case. Several more major players have sought deals with prosecutors in the other cases currently facing Mr. Trump. It remains to be seen how many co-defendants ultimately become witnesses for the prosecution.

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