By KATE BRUMBACK (Associated Press)
ATLANTA (AP) — Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro pleaded guilty to a felony on Friday just as jury selection was getting underway in his trial on charges accusing him of participating in efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election in Georgia.
Chesebro, who was charged alongside Trump and 17 others with violating the state’s anti-racketeering law, pleaded guilty to one felony charge of conspiracy to commit filing false documents in a last-minute deal. His plea came a day after fellow attorney Sidney Powell, who had been scheduled to go to trial alongside him, entered her own guilty plea to six misdemeanor counts.
In Chesebro’s case, he was sentenced to five years’ probation and 100 hours of community service and was ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution, write an apology letter to Georgia’s residents and testify truthfully at any related future trial.
The two guilty pleas — along with a third for a bail bondsman last month — are major victories for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who obtained the indictment in August. They allow her to avoid a lengthy trial of just two defendants — which would have given those remaining a peek at her trial strategy — and to whittle down an unwieldy pool of defendants.
Chesebro, who lives in Puerto Rico, was initially charged with felony racketeering and six other counts as part of a wide-ranging scheme to keep the Republican president in power after he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden. The indictment alleges Chesebro coordinated and executed a plan to have 16 Georgia Republicans sign a certificate declaring falsely that Trump won the state and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors.
For prosecutors, the plea deal assures that Chesebro publicly accepts responsibility for his conduct in the case and removes the uncertainty of a trial by a jury of his peers. It also compels him to testify about communications he had with Trump’s campaign lawyers and close associates, including co-defendant Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and a Trump attorney.
Jury selection had been set to start Friday for the trial of Powell and Chesebro after each filed a demand for a speedy trial. Once Powell pleaded guilty, Chesebro had been set to continue to trial on his own.
As part of Powell’s deal, she will serve six years of probation, will be fined $6,000 and will have to write an apology letter to Georgia and its residents. She also recorded a statement for prosecutors and agreed to testify truthfully against her co-defendants at future trials.
A lower-profile defendant in the case, bail bondsman Scott Graham Hall, pleaded guilty last month to five misdemeanor charges. He was sentenced to five years of probation and agreed to testify in further proceedings.
Prosecutors allege that Chesebro unlawfully conspired with Trump and lawyers associated with his campaign to have the group of Georgia Republicans sign the false elector certificate and to submit it to various federal authorities. He also communicated with Trump campaign lawyers and Republican leaders in other swing states won by Biden to get those states to submit false slates of electors as well, prosecutors alleged.
That included writing memos advocating for Republicans in those states to meet and cast electoral votes for Trump and providing detailed instructions for how the process should be carried out. In an email to Giuliani, he outlined strategies to disrupt and delay the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, during which electoral votes were to be certified. He wrote that those strategies were “preferable to allowing the Electoral Count Act to operate by its terms.”