Georgia’s plan to keep Donald Trump and 18 other defendants in a criminal case over the 2020 election together for trial fell apart after a judge split the prosecution in two and said further divisions may be necessary, leaving the date of the former president’s trial up in the air for now.
(Bloomberg) — Georgia’s plan to keep Donald Trump and 18 other defendants in a criminal case over the 2020 election together for trial fell apart after a judge split the prosecution in two and said further divisions may be necessary, leaving the date of the former president’s trial up in the air for now.
Only two defendants — former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell and attorney Kenneth Chesebro — will go on trial Oct. 23, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled Thursday in Atlanta, scuttling the state’s bid for all 19 defendants to be tried that day.
McAfee said he was skeptical of the theory that keeping defendants together “always ensures efficiency, especially in ‘mega-trials’ such as this.”
The decision is a setback for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who alleges the group violated Georgia’s racketeering law by joining a “criminal enterprise” to keep Trump in office after he lost the election to Joe Biden. It’s one of four prosecutions Trump is facing, all of which he claims are part of a “witch hunt” to undermine his campaign to return to the White House in 2024.
Willis, a Democrat, had argued that splitting the case would be a burden for the state because prosecutors would be required to present the same evidence to multiple juries and call the same witnesses to repeatedly testify. The state has estimated that it will take four months to present its case to any jury, and that as many as 150 potential witnesses had been identified.
The judge also denied requests from four other defendants, including Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, to put their cases on hold while they seek transfers to federal court, ruling the entire case must proceed.
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Powell and Chesebro diverged from Trump and the other defendants when they asked the judge to expedite their trials under Georgia’s “speedy trial” law, resulting in the Oct. 23 start date being set by the court. Willis then argued that all the defendants must be tried starting on that date.
But McAfee said that severing the other co-defendants from Powell and Chesebro was “simply a procedural and logistical inevitability,” adding that “additional divisions of these 17 defendants may well be required.”
One of the main concerns is the size of the courthouse, the judge said.
“The Fulton County Courthouse simply contains no courtroom adequately large enough to hold all 19 defendants, their multiple attorneys and support staff, the sheriff’s deputies, court personnel, and the State’s prosecutorial team,” the judge said. “Relocating to another larger venue raises security concerns that cannot be rapidly addressed.”
At a hearing Thursday, McAfee heard arguments from lawyers for Powell and Chesebro on their requests to get access to transcripts from the grand jury proceedings that led to the indictment, though not their deliberations. The lawyers also want to interview the jurors voluntarily, to ask if they’d been pressured by state prosecutors to vote for the indictment. The defense said they were concerned that the deliberations may have lasted only one day. The state pushed back.
“They could have taken five minutes, five hours or five days,” Assistant District Attorney Daysha Young told McAfee. “There’s no restrictions.”
The judge expressed some openness to the idea of juror interviews and said he’d rule later.
(Updates with denying Mark Meadows’s request to put case on hold.)
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