A state judge denied Kenneth Chesebro’s attempt to sever his charges in the Georgia election interference case from fellow Trump-aligned attorney Sidney Powell, saying he didn’t deem it necessary to do so to achieve a fair trial.
But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee did signal Wednesday that he has deep doubts about District Attorney Fani Willis’s (D) broader desire to try all 19 co-defendants, including former President Trump, together.
Both Chesebro and Powell sought to separate themselves from the sweeping case – and from each other – as they filed motions for a speedy trial, which likely enables them to begin that process this fall.
Chesebro’s trial was already set to begin Oct. 23, with his attorneys at Wednesday’s hearing urging the judge to keep Powell’s trial separate, despite her similar motion for rapidity, but McAfee expressed his doubts.
“Based on what’s been presented today, I am not finding the severance from Mr. Chesbro or Ms. Powell is necessary to achieve a fair determination of the guilt or innocence for either defendant in this case,” McAfee said at the hearing.
McAfee, however, did not issue a final ruling as to whether the other 17 co-defendants — who have not sought a speedy trial at least yet — should also be tried in October. He gave Willis’s office an opportunity to further brief the issue.
“It sounds like the state is still sticking to the position that all these defendants should remain and they want to address some of these removal issues,” McAfee said. “I’m willing to hear that. I remain very skeptical, but we can – I’m willing to hear what you have to say on it.”
The hearing also marked the first televised proceeding in any of Trump’s four criminal cases. CNN and MSNBC carried most of the hearing live.
The defendants are accused of entering a criminal enterprise to overturn Georgia’s election results so that Trump could remain in power after the 2020 election, with the indictment focused on state Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act charges.
Prosecutors leveraged RICO to weave together a wide range of conduct allegedly committed by Trump and his allies in one indictment.
But Chesebro’s and Powell’s attorneys on Wednesday pushed back, arguing the allegations were in separate buckets and that the duo don’t even know each other.
“I guess you can say the purpose is to elect Donald Trump president. But if that was the purpose, a prosecutor could use a purpose of that magnitude to try to tie together charges and defendants that otherwise have nothing to do with each other,” Scott Grubman, Chesebro’s attorney, said at the hearing.
“Then, before we know it, I mean, millions of people, literally millions of people could have been charged in this conspiracy. These are totally separate cases,” he continued.
Although they were both pro-Trump attorneys who aided the then-president in the wake of the 2020 election, Chesebro and Powell are charged over different schemes.
Chesebro faces charges over his role writing memos helping devise a plan to send false slates of pro-Trump electors, and Powell faces charges related to a breach at an elections office in Coffee County, Ga. Both pleaded not guilty.
“She has nothing to do with the Electoral College aspects of this, which is going to involve all sorts of complex testimony about constitutional issues and things of that nature,” said Brian Rafferty, Powell’s attorney. “Her only involvement as alleged by the government is what happened in Coffee County, and even that they have wrong.”
Rafferty argued that Powell can’t receive a fair trial if the same jury is also hearing extensive evidence about Chesebro’s alleged actions.
“All of my efforts is going to get washed away in days or weeks of testimony, perhaps, about the Constitution, and whether or not and under what circumstances alternative electors can be put in place and whether the legal opinions of Mr. Chesbro and others have any sort of legal validity,” Rafferty said. “All of that is going to be prejudicial to my client.”
Willis and her office have repeatedly stressed a desire to keep all of the 19 charged individuals together.
“Anytime a person enters into a conspiracy, they are liable for all of the acts of all of their co-conspirators. And that’s it. Evidence against one is evidence against all,” said Deputy District Attorney Will Wooten.
Special prosecutor Nathan Wade indicated at the hearing that a joint trial would take four months and that the state plans to call at least 150 witnesses.
Though McAfee has not yet made a final ruling on whether Trump and the other defendants will be also tried in October, he made clear prosecutors face an uphill battle.
He gave them until Tuesday to argue in writing how the other defendants could logistically be kept on the same advanced timetable.
“It just seems a bit unrealistic to think that we can handle all 19 in 40 something days,” McAfee said.
McAfee noted that multiple co-defendants already indicated they wouldn’t be ready to go to trial in October. Some are trying to move their charges to federal court, an issue that could tie up their proceedings for months, the judge noted.
“Aren’t we delaying the inevitable if we say there’s no severance?” McAfee asked. “Are we going to have 17 defense attorneys get up here and file motions for continuance just saying they’re not ready?”
Updated 4:06 p.m.