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Trump Gets Cheesed

Donald Trump has been on an absolute rampage over the last 36 hours on his boutique social media platform, presumably because he knows that he's now in deep, deep trouble in Georgia.

Historically, the former president has shown a remarkable ability to attract people willing to do his dirty work and then, more importantly, to take the fall for him if and when the piper needed to be paid. Think Allen Weisselberg, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, etc. Whatever black magick (orange magick?) Trump was using does not seem to be working anymore, as Trump suffered a second defection in as many days on Friday, with Kenneth Chesebro joining Sidney Powell in turning state's evidence.

The terms of Chesebro's plea deal are as follows: He will plead guilty to "conspiracy to commit filing false documents," and in exchange Fulton County DA Fani Willis will recommend 5 years' probation and a $5,000 fine. Like Powell, Chesebro will have to write an "I'm sorry" letter to the people of Georgia. And like Powell, Chesebro has already recorded some testimony, and will be required to appear for the prosecution in future trials related to the Georgia election fraud.

Reader A.R. in Los Angeles—who, we will remind readers, is a lawyer, unlike us—was kind enough to share some thoughts about the news:

As predicted, Chesebro has copped a plea, but what's interesting about this deal is that it's a better one than what he was offered a couple months ago and it mirrors the deal given to Powell, albeit he's pleading guilty to one felony charge while she's pleading guilty to misdemeanors only. This seemingly goes against the adage that the first to flip gets the better deal. This tells me a couple things: (1) that Chesebro must have more damning information than the prosecutors realized, and (2) he must have the receipts. He hasn't been as visible or given a press conference with black ink running down his face, but he was the architect of the fake electors scheme and present at the Dec. 18 meeting. In fact, my guess is that he's the one who first told Trump about the Jan. 6 date, the certification process and Pence's role. Trump wouldn't have had any reason to know about that date unless someone told him. And remember that it was right after that meeting that Trump first summoned his supporters to Washington on Jan. 6, promising that it "will be wild." Also, Chesebro and Powell must be telling the same story, and given her rather, ahem, eccentric reputation, that goes a long way to erasing any credibility issues.

One other consideration that could account for the relative lightness of the sentence, and that I haven't heard anyone mention, is that this plea deal essentially means they're admitting to the allegations in the federal case. I've heard some commentators say that Powell (and presumably Chesebro) could still assert the Fifth, but I don't see how that's possible. The terms of their deal require them to testify without limitations to their role and everyone else's role in this plot. For example, they were at the Dec. 18 meeting, so they must testify about everything they know, which necessarily implicates them in the wrongdoing. All the same facts underlie both cases, so when they testify in Georgia, they can't turn around and deny that testimony in federal court. So, one factor could also be a recognition that the deal means they'd have to cooperate in the federal case as well. Lots of chess pieces moving around the board and so far, Willis is the superior player.

Thanks again, A.R.!

Thanks to the extra day to turn things over in our heads, we've had time to think of half a dozen ways that Chesebro's plea is really, really bad news for Trump. Here they are:

  1. As A.R. in Los Angeles notes, Powell is rather... flighty. Her reputation for kookiness might be enough to allow the defense to muddy the waters and nullify her testimony. Chesebro does not have that reputation. He has a J.D. from Harvard Law School where he was a research assistant for Prof. Laurence Tribe. He continued to work with Tribe after graduating and later worked on Bush v. Gore in support of Gore. Until 2016, he was a registered Democrat. Later he represented Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) in a voting rights case. He can't be brushed off as weirdo like Powell. If he and Powell are saying the same things, then their version of events all of a sudden becomes very solid.

  2. There is now enormous pressure on the other indicted lawyers—Jenna Ellis, Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman—to flip, as well. In particular, it's hard to see why Eastman would be willing to go down with the ship. He knows enough to know that Trump is in deep trouble, and that even if he (Eastman) was open to sacrificing himself, it's rather pointless to do so now. Ellis is a bit player and it is very unlikely she is willing to go to prison for Trump. Giuliani is in a very complicated position, what with being indicted in Georgia, an unindicted coconspirator in the federal case, and being sued left and right with no money to pay lawyers to defend him in any of the cases. His only hope is that Trump decides he must keep Giuliani from flipping at all costs, and agrees to pay for all of Giuliani's lawyers. It's a slim hope, but it is all America's former mayor has.

  3. Even if the other lawyers remain steadfast, Trump's best (and only?) defense is shot. What he was surely planning to do was claim that he was acting on the advice of counsel, and therefore that he thought he was acting lawfully. Now, at least two counselors are going to say that is not so. To have any hope of convincing a jury, Trump himself would have to take the stand to explain his version of events. There is just no way Trump can afford to do that, and if he tries it anyhow, there is no way he can give testimony more compelling than that of two (or more) of his lawyers. As a witness, he is, of course, a defense lawyer's nightmare and a prosecutor's dream.

  4. Since Chesebro and Powell exercised their right under Georgia law to have a speedy trial, it meant that Trump's defense team was going to get a very good look at the prosecution's case. Now that Chesebro and Powell have both reached plea deals, that won't happen.

  5. As A.R. in Los Angeles points out, the testimony of Chesebro and Powell will also serve to prove significant elements of the prosecution's case in the Washington, DC, trial. In fact, there is much supposition (though no publicly announced proof) that Chesebro and Powell have already talked to Special Counsel Jack Smith and his team. If that hasn't happened already, surely Smith will soon invite them over for tea and a pleasant chat.

  6. Recall that Trump (and the other indictees) are all charged under Georgia's RICO Act, which requires an enterprise (two or more people) who conspired to commit two or more crimes. Just based on Powell and Chesebro alone, the "enterprise" part of that is a done deal, since Trump was clearly a part of the effort to overturn the Georgia result (see Brad Raffensperger, phone call to). And with Powell and Chesebro having plead guilty to different crimes, the "two or more crimes" part of that might well be a done deal, too.

In view of this news, we've had several readers suggest we let people guess who will be next to flip. Ask, and ye shall receive. The survey lets you vote on which of the 17 will flip next (or if you think none of them will), and also has space for you to explain your thinking, if you wish. We'll run an item with the results sometime this week. (Z)

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