Trump lawyer pleads guilty to election conspiracy, may testify against him

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Washington: Donald Trump has been dealt a blow after one of his former lawyers pleaded guilty to conspiring to interfere in the 2020 election, raising the explosive prospect she could testify against him when he goes to trial.

A day before jury selection was scheduled to begin in her own criminal case, Sidney Powell, a pro-Trump lawyer turned co-defendant pleaded guilty to illegally meddling with the election in Georgia, the battleground state that ultimately helped propel Joe Biden to the presidency.

Sidney Powell (right) speaks next to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2020, when they were Donald Trump’s lawyers. Credit: AP

The unexpected decision makes Powell the second of Trump’s 18 co-defendants in the Georgia racketeering case to accept a plea deal. The first was bail bondsman Scott Hall, who last month admitted that he had helped to breach election equipment and steal voter data in Coffee County.

Under the terms of her deal, Powell will serve six years of probation, pay a fine of $6000 and will have to write an apology letter to Georgia and its residents. She is also required to hand over documents and testify truthfully at the future trials of her co-defendants if she is called as a witness.

This could be extremely damning for Trump because Powell, along with disgraced lawyer Rudy Giuliani, was part of the legal team that was central to the former president’s bid to stay in power, and she has first-hand knowledge of the plot to overturn Biden’s election victory.

Police mugshots of former US president Donald Trump and the 18 people charged with him.Credit: Reuters

For instance, in an infamous White House meeting convened by Trump on December 18, 2020, Powell and former national security adviser Michael Flynn floated outrageous suggestions such as using the military to seize voting machines, or getting Trump to invoke martial law to overturn the election.

At one stage, Trump even suggested appointing Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud – something that many of his official White House aides pushed back on at the time.

“I was vehemently opposed – I didn’t think she should be appointed to anything,” former White House counsel Pat Cipollone told the January 6 Select Committee that last year investigated the Capitol insurrection.

After initially insisting she did nothing wrong, Powell on Thursday (US time) admitted to six misdemeanour counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with the performance of election duties.

She was originally set to go to trial alongside another pro-Trump lawyer, Kenneth Chesboro, who is facing seven counts relating to allegedly drafting a strategy to use so-called “alternate electors” to prevent Biden’s victory.

A date is yet to be set for Trump’s trial in the Georgia case, in which the former president was charged in connection with an alleged “criminal enterprise” designed to overturn the result to stop Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Among the others named in the indictment are Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff; Jeffrey Clark, a former senior official in the Justice Department; Giuliani and lawyer John Eastman.

The Georgia case is one of several Trump faces as he campaigns for next year’s presidential election.

He also faces a criminal trial in Florida over the mishandling of classified documents; another in New York over hush money payments; and one in Washington DC over the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election result and the events surrounding the 2021 Capitol riots.

Trump supporters rally before the riot at the US Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.Credit: AP

For the past few weeks, however, the former president has been preoccupied with a civil fraud trial in Manhattan, which could ultimately seal the fate of his real estate empire.

In that case, New York Attorney-General Letitia James has accused Trump, his sons and their family business of fraudulently inflating the value of his properties to get better loan terms and lower insurance premiums, illegally generating more than $US1 billion in financial benefits.

However, Trump has angrily rejected those charges and accused James and the judge overseeing the trial of a political witch-hunt designed to stop him from returning to the White House. He has also denied all the other criminal charges against him on the same basis.

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