By KATE BRUMBACK (Associated Press)
ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia judge ruled Thursday that former President Donald Trump and 16 others will be tried separately from two defendants who go on trial next month in the case accusing them of participating in an illegal scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Attorneys Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro had filed demands for a speedy trial, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee had set their trial to begin Oct. 23. Trump and other defendants had asked to be tried separately from Powell and Chesebro, and some said they could not be ready for their trial date in late October.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis last month obtained an indictment against Trump and the 18 others, charging them under the state’s racketeering law in their efforts to deny Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over the Republican incumbent.
Willis had been pushing to try all 19 defendants together, arguing it would be more efficient and fairer. McAfee cited the tight schedule, among other issues, as a factor in his decision to separate Trump and 16 others from Powell and Chesebro.
“The Court’s precarious ability to safeguard the due process rights of each defendant and ensure adequate pretrial preparation under the current fast track weighs heavily, if not decisively, in favor of damages,” McAfee wrote. He added that it may be necessary to further divide them into smaller groups for the trial.
This development is likely to be good news for other defendants seeking to avoid being linked by prosecutors to Powell, who perhaps more than anyone in the Trump camp was outspoken about publicly promoting baseless conspiracy theories linking governments. foreigners with electoral interference.
Another defendant in the Atlanta case, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has tried to distance himself from Powell and spoke at length about her in an interview with special counsel Jack Smith’s team in Washington, according to a person familiar. With his account he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Additionally, Trump-aligned lawyer Eric Herschmann, who in 2020 tried to reject efforts to overturn the election, told the congressional committee investigating the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 that he considered Powell’s ideas like “crazy”. “
Chesebro and Powell had requested to be tried separately, but the judge also denied the request.
Chesebro is accused of working to coordinate and execute a scheme to have 16 Georgia Republicans sign a certificate falsely declaring that Trump won and declaring themselves “duly elected and qualified” electors of the state. Powell is accused of participating in an election equipment violation in rural Coffee County.
The nearly 100-page indictment details dozens of alleged acts by Trump or his allies to undo his 2020 loss in Georgia, including the suggestion that the secretary of state, a Republican, could help find enough votes for Trump to win the state. battlefield; harassing a poll worker who faced false accusations of fraud; and try to persuade Georgia lawmakers to ignore the will of the voters and appoint a new slate of pro-Trump electoral college electors.
In further explaining his decision to separate the others from Powell and Chesebro, McAfee said he was skeptical of prosecutors’ argument that trying all 19 defendants together would be more efficient. He noted that the Fulton County courthouse does not have a courtroom large enough to accommodate 19 defendants, their attorneys and others who would need to be present, and moving to a larger location could raise security concerns.
Prosecutors had also argued that because each defendant is charged under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO Act, the state plans to call the same witnesses and present the same evidence for any trial in the case. They told the judge last week that they expect any trial to take four months, not including jury selection.
But McAfee noted that each additional defendant increases the time needed for opening statements and closing arguments, cross-examination and evidentiary objections. “Therefore, even if the State’s case remains identical in length and the aggregate time spent by the Court increases, the burden on jurors for each individual trial is reduced through shorter separate trials,” she wrote.
The judge also noted that to satisfy Powell and Chesebro’s demands for a speedy trial, he will try to have a jury empaneled by Nov. 3. “With each additional defendant involved in the voir dire process, an already Herculean task becomes more improbable. ,” he wrote.
McAfee also pointed to the fact that five defendants are currently seeking to move their cases to federal court and litigation on that issue is ongoing. If they were successful midway through a trial in state court, it is unclear what the impact would be, McAfee wrote.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones last week rejected an attempt by Mark Meadows, Trump’s last White House chief of staff, to move his case to federal court; Meadows is appealing that ruling. The other four have hearings before Jones scheduled for next week.
Meadows and three of the others had asked McAfee to halt state court proceedings pending their efforts to move to federal court. The judge denied that request, saying he has no intention of suspending pretrial litigation in the meantime.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.