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Jenna Ellis Pleads Guilty and the Latest on Georgia’s 2020 Fraud Case

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s most complex criminal case is underway in Georgia state court, where the former president is accused of leading a conspiracy to stay in office after losing the 2020 election.

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The indictment, filed Aug. 14 by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in Atlanta, alleged Trump and 18 co-defendants violated Georgia’s racketeering law by participating in a “criminal enterprise” led by the former president. It’s one of four criminal cases Trump is facing as he campaigns to return to the White House. He has called the Georgia indictment a “travesty of justice.”

The latest major development in the case came on Oct. 24 when Jenna Ellis, a conservative lawyer, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aiding and abetting false statements related to Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testify at any future trials as the rest of the case moves forward. She faces a sentence of five years of probation and $5,000 in restitution. She also must write an apology letter to the citizens of Georgia.

Ellis’s plea deal came less than a week after two other Trump legal advisors, Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, entered guilty pleas on the eve of the first trial in the case, which was set to begin Oct. 23. Both Powell and Chesebro had requested a “speedy” trial under Georgia law. Scott Hall, a Georgia bail bondsman, pleaded guilty in September to five of the same conspiracy counts as Powell and was sentenced to five years of probation.

The charges against Hall and Powell focused on a scheme to unlawfully access election equipment and voter data in rural Coffee County. The breach of voter data — part of what prosecutors say was a last-ditch attempt by Trump’s team to find evidence of voter fraud — is one of several distinct but related elements of the alleged criminal enterprise.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee hasn't set trial dates for Trump and the remaining defendants, which include former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The judge expressed skepticism that keeping defendants together “always ensures efficiency, especially in ‘mega-trials’ such as this.” He also has said that the size of the courthouse is a problem because there are no courtrooms big enough to accommodate all the defendants and their legal teams.

Willis claims that the defendants went too far in their support of Trump by attempting to reverse his loss even after it was verified by multiple recounts. She alleges they pressured Georgia officials to reject valid votes, organized fake presidential electors for Trump to prevent the certification of Biden’s victory, intimidated poll workers and stole election machine data in Coffee County.

Here’s the latest on where each defendant’s case stands.

Donald Trump

Former US president

Surrender Date: Aug. 24Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $200,000

Charges (13 counts): Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act; solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer (3 times); filing false documents; false statements and writings (2); conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery (2); conspiracy to commit false statements and writings (2); conspiracy to commit filing false documents

Allegations: Prosecutors claim Trump advanced the scheme in a number of ways, including by spreading false conspiracy theories about voter fraud, pressuring several state officials to overturn Joe Biden’s win in Georgia and promoting a corrupt plan to win the state’s 16 Electoral College votes by appointing a slate of fake electors. Trump is quoted in the indictment pressuring Justice Department officials to make false statements by stating, "Just say that the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.” His actions in Georgia stood out also because of an infamous phone call in which he and his aides tried to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” just enough votes to reverse his election loss in the state, despite the outcome being confirmed by a recount.

Trump’s surrender to the Fulton County Jail was televised live, and his mug shot was a first for a former president. He was in the facility for roughly 20 minutes. Shortly after he entered the jail, his name appeared in its database, recording his height as 6’ 3”, his weight as 215 pounds and his hair color as blond or strawberry. He was assigned inmate number P01135809. Trump later posted his mug shot on the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter, embracing the image as part of his claim that he’s the victim of a Democratic “witch hunt.”

The former president on Sept. 11 asked a judge to let him adopt motions by two other defendants — Giuliani and Chesebro — to toss out the claims against him. Adopting motions filed by others, instead of having them drafted by his own legal team, will save Trump both time and money. Among other things, he seeks to adopt arguments that the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution bars state authorities from prosecuting alleged conduct related to the counting of presidential electors, and that Georgia’s indictment improperly uses conduct in other states to build a racketeering case.

Trump had said in a court filing that he may seek to have his case transferred to federal court from state court because the alleged conduct relates to his duties as president. But his lawyers notified the judge in late September that they no longer planned to pursue that. A federal judge on Sept. 8 had rejected that same argument from five other defendants in the case who sought a transfer.

Rudy Giuliani

Former Trump lawyer

Surrender Date: Aug. 23Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $150,000

Charges (13): RICO; solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer (3); filing false documents; false statements and writings (3); conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery; conspiracy to commit false statements and writings (2); conspiracy to commit filing false documents

Allegations: Prosecutors accuse Giuliani of furthering the conspiracy by testifying falsely to Georgia lawmakers about far-fetched electoral conspiracies that were later debunked, in order to persuade them not to certify Biden’s win in the state. Giuliani also falsely accused election worker Ruby Freeman and her daughter of scheming to undermine Trump as votes were being counted on Election Day, claiming they passed around USB devices to tamper with votes “as if they’re vials of heroin or cocaine,” according to the indictment.

In a Sept. 8 court filing, Giuliani sought dismissal of the indictment against him, arguing that the charges improperly target “an array of acts and conduct” that occurred in other states and are irrelevant to a racketeering conspiracy under Georgia law. He also argues that the broader federal case against Trump in Washington means that any conspiracy over the 2020 election — “if one exists” — took place in the nation’s capital rather than Georgia.

Giuliani said the indictment appears to acknowledge “that the events charged here are not a racketeering enterprise in Georgia at all, but are instead, at best, a predicate act to a purported national scheme.” The former New York City mayor also claims that some of the conduct amounts to standard campaign-related commentary.

“Many of the alleged ‘acts’ are statements, or portions of statements taken from phone calls, voice mails or ‘tweets’, in and out of context, while others, again regardless of context, are taken from campaign speeches or press conferences,” he said in the filing.

Mark Meadows

Former White House chief of staff

Surrender Date: Aug. 24Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $100,000

Charges (2): RICO; solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer

Allegations: Prosecutors say Meadows furthered the conspiracy by participating in a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call in which Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” just enough votes to reverse his loss to Biden in the state. Meadows, one of Trump’s closest aides during his effort to stay in office, also observed the audit of absentee ballot signatures in Georgia’s Cobb County and arranged the call with Raffensperger — both significant pieces of the alleged scheme, according to the indictment.

Meadows has been fighting to move the case against him to federal court from state court, which would allow him to argue that he was immune from state prosecution because his actions related to his job as an employee of the federal government. “I don’t know that I did anything that was outside my scope as chief of staff,” Meadows said on the witness stand during an Aug. 28 hearing on his request. But US District Judge Steve Jones in Atlanta on Sept. 8 rejected the transfer, concluding that Meadows wasn’t acting within the scope of his duties when he joined efforts to reverse Trump’s loss at the ballot box.

Jones said in his decision that Meadows’s request hinged on whether a president’s chief of staff can challenge the result of an election as part of their job. The judge said Meadows didn’t have a role to play in Georgia’s presidential election because the US Constitution delegates voting to the states.

“It would be inconsistent with federalism and the separation of powers to find that activities which are delegated to the states are also within the scope of executive power,” he wrote.

Shortly after the judge ruled, Meadows filed a notice at the district court that he’s appealing to the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. He asked to have the case put on hold while he challenges the ruling.

“If the state gets its way, Meadows could be forced to go to trial—and could be convicted and incarcerated—before the standard timeline for a federal appeal would play out,” the defense said.

On Sept. 12 Jones denied the request, ruling that Meadows hadn’t provided any argument “to convince this court that its decision was incorrect.” Meadows “has shown no likelihood of prevailing on the merits of his appeal,” Jones said in his ruling. The 11th Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments on Dec. 15.

Jenna Ellis

Lawyer who advised Trump

Date: Oct. 24 Plea: GuiltyBail: $100,000

Charges (2): RICO; solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer

Allegations: Ellis, who once described herself as part of an “elite strike force” fighting for Trump, pleaded guilty on Oct. 24 to a felony charge of aiding and abetting false statements relating to the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Ellis cried as she read a statement in court about false statements she made in support of efforts to overturn the election in Georgia and other states. She said she relied on more experienced lawyers to guide her in trying to overturn President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Ellis had worked extensively with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, traveling across the country with him to meet state legislators.

“If I knew then what I know now I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges,’’’ Ellis said. ``I look back on this whole episode with deep remorse.”

Prosecutors said Ellis aided false statements by Giuliani and others at a hearing before Georgia lawmakers on Dec. 3, 2020. They falsely asserted 96,600 mail-in ballots were counted in the election, 10,315 dead people voted, 2,506 felons voted illegally, and 2,423 unregistered people cast ballots, according to the filing, which Ellis admitted.

Ellis is cooperating with prosecutors and has promised to testify at any future trials. She must serve five years probation, pay $5,000 in restitution and apologize to the people of Georgia.

She was censured earlier this year by the Colorado Supreme Court after admitting to making 10 misrepresentations about the 2020 election. Ellis, who is from Colorado, agreed with a disciplinary judge that she repeatedly misrepresented facts on social media and national television, including by claiming the presidential election had been stolen and that Trump “won in a landslide.”

Kenneth Chesebro

Lawyer who advised Trump

Date: Oct. 20Plea: GuiltyBail: $100,000

Charges (7): RICO; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery (2); conspiracy to commit false statements and writings (2); conspiracy to commit filing false documents

Allegations: Chesebro, a lawyer in the Trump 2020 campaign orbit, was accused in the indictment of working with attorney John Eastman to develop a fake elector strategy to disrupt and delay the certification of Biden’s election in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. He was also accused of helping to organize the slate of fake electors in Georgia. He allegedly worked directly with top Georgia Republicans, including then-party Chair Shafer, to have the electors meet at the State Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, and cast Electoral College votes in favor of Trump.

A Harvard Law School graduate and prominent appellate lawyer, Chesebro pleaded guilty on Oct. 20 before Judge McAfee to one felony count of conspiracy to file false documents. He has begun to debrief prosecutors and could testify at future trials. Chesebro must serve five years probation, pay $5,000 in restitution, complete 100 hours of community service, and write a letter of apology to the citizens of Georgia.

Chesebro admitted that he conspired with Trump, Giuliani, Eastman and others in the electors scheme. One goal of the conspiracy, prosecutors said, was to use those fake certifications to convince members of Congress — and, ultimately, then-Vice President Mike Pence — to delay making Biden’s victory official or to overturn the vote tallies altogether.

Chesebro entered his plea on the eve of his trial with attorney Sidney Powell, who pleaded guilty a day earlier. They had requested an expedited trial under Georgia’s “speedy trial” law. Chesebro fought the Georgia case until the eve of his guilty plea, arguing he did nothing illegal in advancing legal theories in supporting Trump. But McAfee refused to dismiss the charges, setting up a trial expected to last five months.

Sidney Powell

Former Trump campaign lawyer

Date: Oct. 19Plea: GuiltyBail: $100,000

Charges (7): RICO; conspiracy to commit election fraud (2); conspiracy to commit computer theft; conspiracy to commit computer trespass; conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy; conspiracy to defraud the state

Allegations: Powell was an architect of the conspiracy theory that the election was rigged by voting-machine companies and foreign hackers. She worked closely with Trump, Giuliani and others at the White House to craft a plan to block the transition of power to Biden, including by seizing voting machines for a partisan investigation. Among other things, she was accused in the indictment of hiring a forensic data firm to breach election equipment in rural Coffee County, Georgia, and copy voter software and data. The alleged breach — which took place the day after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington — was part of a last-ditch plan to find proof of voter fraud despite the election result being verified by recounts.

On Oct. 19, Powell appeared before Judge McAfee to plead guilty to six misdemeanor counts of conspiring to interfere with the performance of election duties. She was sentenced to six years of probation, a $6,000 fine, and $2,700 restitution, and must write an apology letter to the citizens of Georgia. She also must cooperate with prosecutors going forward, which means she could testify at trial against Trump.Before pleading guilty, Powell had asked McAfee to expedite her case under Georgia’s speedy-trial law, resulting in an Oct. 23 trial date alongside Chesebro.

Scott Hall

Georgia bail bondsman

Date: Sept.29Plea: GuiltyBail: $10,000

Charges (7): RICO; conspiracy to commit election fraud (2); conspiracy to commit computer theft; conspiracy to commit computer trespass; conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy; conspiracy to defraud the state.

Allegations: Prosecutors said Hall admitted chartering a private plane which flew co-conspirators to Coffee County on Jan. 7, 2021, to help with the unlawful breach of election equipment and voter data. Hall, one of the first defendants to surrender in August, pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with the performance of election duties. He agreed to a term of five years’ probation on each misdemeanor charge, pay a $5,000 fine and testify for the Fulton County DA.

John Eastman

Lawyer who advised Trump

Surrender Date: Aug. 22Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $100,000

Charges (9): RICO; solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer; filing false documents; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery (2); conspiracy to commit false statements and writings (2); conspiracy to commit filing false documents

Allegations: Prosecutors accuse Eastman, a conservative lawyer, of writing a memo falsely claiming that then-Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the election results in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, by declining to recognize Biden’s presidential electors from Georgia and other swing states. Eastman is also accused of making false claims about rampant voter fraud in a lawsuit challenging the election and testifying falsely to Georgia lawmakers about such claims.

Former White House lawyers told the House Jan. 6 committee that they strongly pushed back on Eastman’s theories — with one official calling them “completely crazy.” But Eastman blasted the indictment when he turned himself in for booking, saying in a statement that the charges “should never have been brought.” He argued the criminal case violates his free-speech rights and tramples the right of a client to get advice from a lawyer.

Jeffrey Clark

Former Justice Department official

Surrender Date: Aug. 25Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $100,000

Charges (2): RICO; criminal attempt to commit false statements and writings

Allegations: Clark, who oversaw environmental and natural resources matters at the Justice Department under Trump, is accused of advancing the conspiracy by drafting a letter in December 2020 that falsely said the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns” about election fraud in Georgia and other states. Clark urged senior Justice Department officials to send the letter, but they refused. The letter, which went unsent, urged Georgia officials to call a special session of the state legislature to overturn Biden’s victory. Trump had considered installing Clark as acting attorney general, according to testimony provided to the congressional committee. Top department officials threatened to resign en masse if Trump went through with that plan, and it never happened.

Clark is seeking to move the case to federal court from state court, arguing that he’s immune from state prosecution because he was an employee of the federal government during the alleged conduct. A federal judge denied that request on Sept. 29 and Clark has appealed to the 11th Circuit.

David Shafer

Former Georgia Republican Party chair

Surrender Date: Aug. 23Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $75,000

Charges (8): RICO; false statements and writings (3); impersonating a public officer; forgery (2); criminal attempt to commit filing false documents

Allegations: Prosecutors claim Shafer furthered the conspiracy by arranging a meeting on Dec. 14, 2020, to certify as electors a slate of Trump supporters — including himself — who falsely claimed they were the “duly elected and qualified presidential electors” from Georgia. Shafer tweeted his own mug shot after completing his booking. Like Meadows and Clark, all three fake electors in the prosecution asked to have their cases moved to federal court. A federal judge denied those requests. Shafer has appealed to the 11th Circuit.

Ray Smith III

Georgia lawyer who advised Trump

Surrender Date: Aug. 23Plea: Not guiltyBail: $50,000

Charges (12): RICO; solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer (3); false statements and writings (2); conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery (2); conspiracy to commit false statements and writings (2); conspiracy to commit filing false documents

Allegations: Prosecutors accuse Smith of furthering the alleged conspiracy by making false statements to Georgia lawmakers about votes being cast by felons and dead people. Willis also alleges Smith helped certify the list of fake presidential electors for Trump that was officially submitted.

Smith on Aug. 28 became the first of the defendants to formally enter a plea of not guilty. Smith did so a court filing that waived his arraignment hearing and formally denied “each and every charge of the Indictment.”

Cathleen Latham

Former Coffee County Republican Party chair

Surrender Date: Aug. 23Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $75,000

Charges (11): RICO; impersonating a public officer; forgery; false statements and writings; criminal attempt to commit filing false documents; conspiracy to commit election fraud (2); conspiracy to commit computer theft; conspiracy to commit computer trespass; conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy; conspiracy to defraud the state

Allegations : Prosecutors allege that Latham furthered the alleged scheme by agreeing to be one of 16 fake Trump electors and by helping arrange the alleged breach of voter data in Coffee County in January 2021. Accessing voter data would have been one way to to try to back up assertions of voter fraud. Like Meadows and Clark, all three fake electors in the prosecution asked to have their cases moved to federal court. A federal judge denied those requests. Latham has appealed to the 11th Circuit.

Michael Roman

Former Trump campaign official

Surrender Date: Aug. 25Plea: Not GuiltyBond: $50,000

Charges (7): RICO; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery (2); conspiracy to commit false statements and writings (2); conspiracy to commit filing false documents

Allegations : Prosecutors say Roman helped organize slates of fake electors in several states, including Georgia.

Robert Cheeley

Georgia lawyer who advised Trump

Surrender Date: Aug. 25Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $50,000

Charges (10): RICO; solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer; false statements and writings; conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer; conspiracy to commit forgery (2); conspiracy to commit false statements and writings (2); conspiracy to commit filing false documents; perjury

Allegations : Prosecutors allege that Cheeley advanced the alleged conspiracy by falsely testifying to Georgia lawmakers that Fulton County election workers had “voted” the same ballots “over and over again” on Election Day. He is also charged with perjuring himself before the special-purpose grand jury that heard evidence in the Fulton County case.

Shawn Still

Fake Trump elector

Surrender Date: Aug. 25Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $10,000

Charges (7): RICO; impersonating a public officer; forgery (2); false statements and writings (2); criminal attempt to commit filing false documents

Allegations: Still was one of three electors indicted over their role in the scheme to present a bogus slate of 16 Republicans as the “duly elected and qualified” electors submitted in support of Trump. Like Meadows and Clark, all three fake electors in the prosecution asked to have their cases moved to federal court. A federal judge denied those requests. Still has appealed to the 11th Circuit.

Misty Hampton

Former Coffee County elections supervisor

Surrender Date: Aug. 25Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $10,000

Charges (7): RICO; conspiracy to commit election fraud (2); conspiracy to commit computer theft; conspiracy to commit computer trespass; conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy; conspiracy to defraud the state

Allegations: Prosecutors allege Hampton assisted employees of forensic data firm SullivanStrickler in breaching voting machines in Coffee County.

Stephen Cliffgard Lee

Police chaplain from Illinois

Surrender Date: Aug. 25Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $75,000

Charges (5): RICO; criminal attempt to commit influencing witnesses (2); influencing witnesses; conspiracy to commit solicitation of false statements and writings

Allegations: Prosecutors say Lee tried to intimidate Fulton County poll worker Ruby Freeman by visiting her at home and “purporting to offer her help” with the goal of getting her to give false testimony about Election Day events.

Harrison Floyd

Former director of Black Voices for Trump

Surrender Date: Aug. 24Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $100,000

Charges (3): RICO; influencing witnesses; conspiracy to commit solicitation of false statements and writings

Allegations: Floyd, a US Marine Corps veteran who owns his own political consulting firm, is accused of advancing the conspiracy by participating in a scheme with former Kanye West publicist Trevian Kutti to manipulate Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman into giving false testimony about voter fraud on Election Day.

Floyd initially did not reach a bond agreement and was taken into custody for several days, becoming the only defendant in the case to be detained. His lawyer urged the judge to accept a $100,000 bond agreement in the case, pointing out that his client was the only Black male defendant and the only who’d been locked up. The lawyer also noted that Trump was free on bond despite being a defendant in four criminal cases. The judge signed the bond deal on Aug. 29.

Trevian Kutti

Former Kanye West publicist

Surrender Date: Aug. 25Plea: Not GuiltyBail: $75,000

Charges (3): RICO; influencing witnesses; conspiracy to commit solicitation of false statements and writings

Allegations: Prosecutors claim Kutti was enlisted to travel from Chicago to Fulton County to visit Freeman at her home, where she falsely identified herself as a crisis manager who wanted to help her. She allegedly joined Lee and Floyd in trying to influence Freeman’s testimony about Election Day events, attempting to pressure her into five false testimony about voter fraud.

--With assistance from Erik Larson and Patricia Hurtado.

(Updates with Jenna Ellis guilty plea.)

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