Jury Selection Begins in First Trial in Georgia Election Case Against Trump and Others
ATLANTA (AP) — Jury selection began Friday for the first defendant to go to trial in the Georgia case that accuses former President Donald Trump and others of illegally scheming to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state.
Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro was indicted just over two months ago along with Trump and 17 others. Two of those others — including Sidney Powell, who was supposed to go on trial with Chesebro — have already pleaded guilty to reduced charges. No trial date has been set yet for the rest, who’ve pleaded not guilty.
The proceedings will provide a first extensive look at the evidence that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her team have amassed against him and the rest of the defendants.
Here’s what to expect:
TRUMP WILL LOOM LARGE OVER THE TRIAL
There’s little doubt that the Republican former president will be a central figure in the proceedings, even though he’s not expected to be there.
After all, the indictment alleges Chesebro and the rest of the defendants “refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump.”
As the defense and prosecution weigh potential jurors, it’s likely they will try to figure out as much as they can about their feelings about Trump, their political leanings and their opinions about baseless claims that the 2020 election was marred by fraud and stolen from Trump.
CHESEBRO WILL BE TRIED BY HIMSELF
Until Thursday morning, Chesebro was set to go on trial alongside Powell after each filed a demand for a speedy trial. Under Georgia law, a defendant who files a demand for a speedy trial has a right to have a trial begin within the court term when the demand is filed or in the next court term. That meant the trial had to start by Nov. 5.
Powell agreed to a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to six misdemeanor counts. As part of the deal, she must testify truthfully if she is called as a witness at any future trials related to the case. She was also sentenced to probation and ordered to pay a fine.
THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST CHESEBRO
All the defendants are accused of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, by participating in a wide-ranging scheme to keep Trump in power despite his election loss.
Chesebro is also accused of working on the coordination and execution of a plan to have 16 Georgia Republicans sign a certificate declaring falsely that Trump won and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors.
The indictment says Chesebro wrote memos outlining that plan, including one that “provides detailed, state-specific instructions” for how Trump elector nominees in swing states where Trump had lost could meet to cast votes for Trump on Dec. 14, 2020.
In an email sent a few days before those meetings were to happen, Chesebro wrote that “the purpose of having the electoral votes sent in to Congress is to provide the opportunity to debate the election irregularities in Congress and to keep alive the possibility that votes could be flipped to Trump.”
In an email to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump lawyer, he outlined strategies to disrupt and delay the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, during which electoral votes were to be certified for Democrat Joe Biden, prosecutors said. He wrote that those strategies were “preferable to allowing the Electoral Count Act to operate by its terms.”
Besides the racketeering charge, he faces six felony conspiracy counts related to the elector plan.
Chesebro’s attorneys do not dispute that he drafted the legal memos and emails at issue, but they have said every action he took was justified under Georgia and federal law. He is a constitutional law expert who was working as a lawyer to research and find precedents to support a legal opinion that he provided to the Trump campaign, they argued in court filings.
“Nothing about Mr. Chesebro’s conduct falls outside the bounds of what lawyers do on a daily basis; researching the law in order to find solutions that address their clients particularized needs,” they wrote in one filing.
His lawyers tried to get the judge to bar prosecutors from using Chesebro’s memos and emails at trial, arguing that they were protected by attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. But the judge rejected those arguments.
THE JURY SELECTION PROCESS
The 450 prospective jurors summoned to appear at the courthouse in downtown Atlanta on Friday will spend several hours filling out an extensive questionnaire formulated by prosecutors, defense attorneys and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee. Those will then be scanned into a shared drive accessible to the lawyers.
On Monday, prospective jurors will be called in groups of 14 for individual questioning. For each group, the judge will ask questions to determine whether anyone has qualifying hardships that would keep them from being able to serve as a juror. Then the prosecution and the defense attorneys will have one hour per group of 14 prospective jurors to ask questions.
To ensure there are enough potential jurors, McAfee has requested that another 450 people be brought in on Oct. 27 to fill out questionnaires.
In an order in September, McAfee wrote that he will try to have the jury seated and sworn in by Nov. 3, “to eliminate any doubts that the statutory speedy trial deadline has been met.”
THE TRIAL LENGTH
Prosecutors have said that since the case was brought under the RICO law, they intend to prove the entire alleged conspiracy, using all the same witnesses and evidence in any trial in the case. They said at a hearing last month that they estimate a trial would take four months and that they would call more than 150 witnesses.
McAfee recently said he would tell prospective jurors during jury selection that it’s likely to take up to five months.