Kenneth Chesebro, an attorney who helped orchestrate the Trump campaign’s 2020 fake electors plot, pleaded guilty Friday in the Georgia election subversion case to being part of a conspiracy alongside former President Donald Trump and others.
The plea deal is another blow to Trump and a major victory for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who charged Trump and 18 others in the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. It comes one day after former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell also pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Chesebro pleaded guilty to one felony – conspiracy to commit filing false documents. Fulton County prosecutors recommended that he serve 5 years of probation and pay $5,000 in restitution, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee imposed that sentence at Friday’s hearing.
Chesebro has also agreed to testify in future court proceedings.
As part of his plea deal, Chesebro admitted that he conspired to put forward fake GOP electors in Georgia with Trump and former Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman. Giuliani and Eastman have both pleaded not guilty in the Georgia case, and now face the prospect of Chesebro taking the witness stand against them.
The plea came shortly after jury selection in the trial began Friday morning as planned, but was short-lived. A source familiar with the discussions said the likelihood of Chesebro taking a deal increased after Powell made a surprise turn and pleaded guilty on Thursday.
An attorney who worked to undermine the results of the 2020 election, Chesebro helped develop the Trump’s campaign’s plot to put forward unauthorized slates of GOP electors in Georgia and six other states. (In previous court filings, Chesebro’s lawyers have denied that he devised the plan.)
He wrote a series of memos in 2020 spelling out what the pro-Trump electors should do in their respective states. In one memo Chesebro acknowledged that he was promoting a “controversial strategy” that even the Supreme Court with its conservative supermajority would “likely” reject.
Chesebro and other Trump allies hoped then-Vice President Mike Pence would use the GOP electors to justify delaying Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory – or even throw out Biden’s lawful electors and recognize the fake GOP slates instead on January 6, 2021.
Prosecutors said in court that Chesebro acknowledged in the plea that he “created and distributed false Electoral College documents” to Trump operatives in Georgia and other states, and that he worked “in coordination with” the Trump campaign.
“The defendant provided detailed instructions to co-conspirators in Georgia and other states for creating and distributing these false documents,” prosecutor Daysha Young said at the plea hearing Friday.
Chesebro was originally charged with seven crimes, including a violation of Georgia’s RICO act, conspiracy to commit forgery and conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer. Six of the seven felony charges were dropped as part of the deal.
In addition to testifying at future trials, Chesebro agreed to write an apology letter to the citizens of Georgia.
Three defendants have now pleaded guilty in the sprawling racketeering case: Chesebro, Powell and Georgia-based bail bondsman Scott Hall.
Powell and Hall both admitted their roles in the January 2021 breach of election systems in rural Coffee County, Georgia. As part of her plea deal, Powell agreed to testify at future trials, which could hurt Trump’s defense. Both Powell and Hall were sentenced to probation.
Ahead of their scheduled trial, Chesebro and Powell lost several bids to get the case thrown out, including earlier this week. In a spate of pretrial rulings, McAfee rejected their arguments that Fulton County prosecutors misapplied Georgia’s RICO law and that the indictment failed to establish key elements of the crimes that have been charged.
Both Powell and Chesebro are unindicted co-conspirators in Trump’s federal election subversion case, which was brought by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith. Trump’s federal trial is set for March 2024 in Washington, DC.
Hundreds of potential jurors for the Chesebro trial were summoned to the Fulton County courthouse on Friday, where they filled out questionnaires that were designed to weed out people with conflicts-of-interest or anyone who couldn’t act impartially.
CNN overheard a court official reading aloud from portions the jury questionnaire in a public area of the courthouse where the jury selection process was taking place. The questionnaire itself has not been made public.
The potential jurors were asked if they “express divisive political opinions,” if they ever attended a Trump rally or any “MAGA events,” or posted anything online about “Donald Trump’s charges.”
They were also asked specifically if they watched the highly publicized January 6 committee hearings last year, which presented in dramatic fashion how Trump tried to overturn the election.
The potential jurors were also asked if they voted in any federal elections over the past 15 years. There is no indication that they were asked who they voted for, and that is never typically part of a jury questionnaire.
At a hearing earlier this week, Fulton County prosecutors and attorneys for Chesebro haggled over how many politically charged questions should be included. Specifically, Chesebro’s attorneys wanted to include questions that could tease out how jurors feel about “MAGA Republicans” and Trump’s attempt to “steal the election.” It’s unclear if those questions made it into the questionnaire.
After Chesebro’s plea, McAfee returned to the jury room to dismiss the jury pool, which responded with applause and cheers.
This story has been updated with additional developments.