Updated Oct. 19 at 8:45 a.m. PT.
Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell—both former lawyers for Trump—were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury in mid-August, alongside 17 others, including Trump himself. On Thursday, Oct. 19, Powell pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts—five counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with performance of election duties, and one count of conspiracy to commit theft—making her the second defendant to flip on Trump and cooperate with prosecutors. (The first was bail bondsman Scott Hall.)
Powell was supposed to go to trial on Monday with co-defendant Chesebro. With Powell’s plea deal, Kenneth Chesebro will go to trial solo next week.
The 98-page indictment presented 41 counts related to Trump and his allies’ ploys, from trying to manipulate electronic voting machines in Coffee County, to pushing Georgia office-holders to distort election results. All 19 co-defendants are charged under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
“The basic thrust is, is that while all of those defendants did slightly different things and engaged in slightly different discrete acts of criminal activity, they all were engaged in one unlawful purpose, which was to overturn the 2020 election,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a professor at the Georgia State University College of Law, on a recent episode of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.
RICO is “not a traditional conspiracy where…people get together, have dinner and drinks, and say, ‘hey, let’s engage in this criminal act’ and then one person does something in furtherance of that conspiracy,” Kreis said. “Georgia RICO is a lot more permissive in the kinds of acts that can be brought together.”
In order to establish a violation of RICO in Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis must demonstrate that these co-defendants engaged in an “enterprise,” which can mean an unofficial group of people, through a “pattern of racketeering activity.” Such a pattern need only include a minimum of two criminal acts that occur within four years and promote a similar aim.
According to Kreis, co-defendants in a RICO case are “part of one machine, one wheel. They are all cogs in that machine. They just don’t necessarily know how they relate to one another, but they all know that they’re working together in a very abstract way.”
Here, the indictment alleges a series of criminal acts performed with the aim of making Trump the winner of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.
Willis set out to try all 19 co-defendants together in one trial. As of now, Chesebro will be tried when the proceedings begin on Oct. 23. Chesebro and Powell were supposed to be tried together, after their legal teams unsuccessfully motioned to sever their trials from one another, arguing that a joint trial would cause a jury to associate allegations against Chesebro with those against Powell, and vice versa.
Notably, Chesebro allegedly drew up plans for recruiting “fraudulent electors” in battleground states to submit certifications saying that:
- they were a state’s legitimate electors, and
- Trump actually won the state (Georgia was one such state).
The plan was to present the false certificates to Congress during its certification proceeding.
Powell is accused of engaging in another scheme: hiring a “forensic data firm” to access and delete voting data, manipulate voting machines, and illegally take ballots from polling places in Coffee County.
While Chesebro and Powell may not have been working directly together, that their illegal activities were done in furtherance of a joint goal (a false Trump victory) is sufficient for RICO charges, and possible RICO convictions.
“What happens with the rest of the co-defendants, the other 17?” Kreis asked, in conversation with Michele Goodwin.
Mark Meadows, who served as Trump’s White House chief of staff, tried and failed to have his case moved out of state court and into federal court. The deadline to motion for removal to federal court has passed, meaning the rest of the co-defendants also will be tried in state court—potentially before the year’s end, and potentially all together.
Before then, “we’re in for a lot of grief and a lot of drama,” Kreis said.
I hope the American public can have a better understanding of what happened here in 2020 and how dangerously close we were to losing our democracy. … By witnessing that, we’ll be able to have a firmer resolve to do better in the future.Anthony Michael Kreis
Since August—since even before his indictment—Trump has attacked Willis “in light of the fact that she is a woman, that she’s a woman of color, that she’s a Black woman,” said Michele Goodwin, executive director of Ms. Studios and co-faculty director of the O’Neill Institute at Georgetown Law.
Trump accused Willis of being racist, ran ads calling her and other prosecutors who have pursued charges against him the “Fraud Squad” and called her what the Guardian described as “a thinly veiled play on the N-word”—after which his supporters directed a stream of online threats at Willis.
As the trials grow nearer, Kreis picked out a silver lining: State court proceedings are televised. “And so, I hope that the benefit of that is that the American public can see for themselves the evidence, the witnesses, the narrative that’s being construed and the defenses and make a better … or have a better understanding of what happened here in 2020 and how dangerously close we were to losing our democracy, and I would hope that, by witnessing that, we’ll be able to have a firmer resolve to do better in the future.”
Hear more from Kreis on the Trump indictments via Fifteen Minutes of Feminism: Untangling the Mess (with Anthony Michael Kreis).
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