Fulton County prosecutors have been in talks about potential plea deals with at least six more co-defendants in the Fulton County, Georgia, indictment related to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, CNN reported.
District Attorney Fani Willis’ office has a clearly defined strategy: to persuade as many co-defendants as they can to cooperate against Trump “to convict” the most serious offenders, legal experts say.
“This has been Willis’ strategy the whole time,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Salon. “She never wanted to try 19 defendants. She wanted 18 guilty pleas and one trial against Donald Trump.”
Robert Cheeley, a pro-Trump lawyer, declined a plea agreement, his attorney told the news outlet. But at least five other co-defendants, including former Coffee County elections supervisor Misty Hampton and former Trump campaign official Mike Roman, have engaged in discussions regarding potential plea deals with the D.A.’s office, according to CNN. Three other defendants have also been in talks about a potential plea deal with prosecutors.
Among the 19 defendants in the Fulton County case, four individuals, including three attorneys who played direct roles in Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia, have already agreed to plea deals. In some instances, they have pleaded guilty to felony charges in return for a more lenient sentencing recommendation.
“Taking a no-time misdemeanor or felony deal is a no-brainer for co-defendants,” Rahmani said. “The offer is too good to pass up. These aren’t career criminals who have done or are used to prison time.”
This is a “significant win” for a prosecutor in a large conspiracy case, who can get lower-level co-defendants to plead guilty and cooperate by offering up information and testimony against higher-level defendants, like Trump, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and several others, Bennett Gershman, a former New York prosecutor and law professor at Pace University, told Salon.
“She is continuing to build momentum,” Gershman said. “Several other co-defendants, seeing the others plead guilty and the far riskier consequences of not pleading and facing trial will also take pleas and cooperate. The D.A.’s strategy is working almost to perfection.”
Trump and 18 co-defendants were indicted in August under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by a grand jury in Fulton County after more than a two-year investigation by Willis into potential 2020 election interference in Georgia.
Using RICO, which was passed to address organized crime, prosecutors charged multiple individuals with various crimes under one case by arguing that these individuals worked together in a criminal enterprise.
“In a criminal conspiracy case like this one, the most difficult task for the prosecutors is proving the agreement – the meeting of the minds required by conspiracy charges,” Paul Saputo, a Texas-based defense attorney, told Salon.
The prosecutors need people who can testify about coordination and planning to get “at the heart of the conspiracy,” he added.
“Getting insiders to cooperate can make or break the case because the insiders know just that,” Saputo said. “The plea deals here will require cooperation with the state and allow jurors to peek behind the curtain as to just what the actors involved were planning.”
With each person who accepts a plea deal in exchange for cooperation with the state, the strength of the state’s case grows, he explained, adding that the cooperating witnesses can “paint a compelling picture of the depth of the conspiracy.”
So far, four people have accepted plea deals, including Georgia attorney Kenneth Chesebro, ex-Trump attorneys Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell and the bail bondsman Scott Hall. The current case charges the ex-president alongside 14 remaining co-defendants of engaging in a “vast racketeering enterprise,” The Messenger reported.
As part of her strategy, Willis may be trying to get as many co-defendants to cooperate against Trump in an attempt to isolate him and others at the top of the criminal enterprise.
In a conspiracy case, guilty pleas “tend to snowball,” and that is exactly what we’re seeing here, Saputo explained. The state’s evidence will get stronger with each passing plea as more and more insiders share information with the state and admit wrongdoing.
“You might be able to attack the credibility of a single person or maybe two people, but once enough insiders come out willing to testify about the existence of a conspiracy, it begins to strain credibility that all of your former colleagues were acting on their own or in a vacuum,” Saputo said.
The conspiracy is being “narrowed and tailored” to convict after a trial of the most serious offenders, Gershman said. It gives the prosecution the chance to hone the evidence, use resources much more efficiently and focus entirely on the major offenders — Trump and his closest advisors.
But this isn’t where the case ends, Saputo added. Trump and the others can still attack each person as an admitted wrongdoer.
“And they can argue that while perhaps the others were conspiring to help Trump, Trump had no knowledge of that,” Saputo said. “But eventually, even a Trump card can’t pull a joker out of the hat.”
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