Andrew Caballero-Reynolds archives Agence France-Presse Former President Donald Trump as he got off his plane in Atlanta to appear in the case , last August.
Domino effect? The young lawyer Jenna Ellis came on Tuesday to extend the list of Donald Trump's ex-prosecutors who had decided a few days ago to turn against him in the trial for attempting to reverse the result of the 2020 election in the State of Georgia. This is one of four trials that threaten the former president and Republican candidate for the next presidential election.
To date, four of the president's eighteen co-defendants in this story, including three of his lawyers, have decided to take this path of collaboration with justice. “Unusual and extraordinary” gestures, declared Bruce Rogow, ex-lawyer of Roger Stone – this adviser to Donald Trump convicted by American justice in 2019 for obstructing the functioning of the State and false declarations –, joined Tuesday by Le Devoir in Florida, and which certainly complicate the defense of the populist. Trump now finds himself threatened by testimony coming from the very heart of a campaign and alleged shenanigans to keep him in power in 2020, against the will of the ballot box.
“It's very rare to see people who give legal advice to a client themselves plead guilty to the crime their client is accused of,” Rogow says. This is certainly a good blow for prosecutor Fani Willis and a less good blow for Donald Trump. »
On August 14, from Fulton County, Georgia, Ms. Willis dealt a severe blow to the ex-president by accusing him and several members of his inner circle of of organized crime laws for having attempted, according to the indictment, to illegally rewrite the results of the 2020 presidential election in this state in order to steal victory from Joe Biden.
Acknowledgement of guilt
On Tuesday, Jenna Ellis pleaded guilty in an Atlanta court to having encouraged and participated in the dissemination of false statements, including written ones, in this vast project aimed at reversing this election. “If I had known then what I know now, I would have refused to represent Donald Trump in these post-election lawsuits,” she said, tearing up in front of the judge. At the time, the 38-year-old lawyer said she was very proud to be part of the populist's “elite team” of prosecutors responsible for defending his unfounded allegations of electoral fraud.
She was subjected to five years of probation, but also sentenced to 100 hours of community service and fined US$5,000. She pledged to write a letter of apology to the citizens of Georgia and agreed to testify honestly against her co-defendants, including Donald Trump.
Last week, two other lawyers for the former president, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, key players in the campaign seeking to overturn the 2020 election, also pleaded guilty in the case, under conditions similar to those offered to Jenna Ellis. A first defendant, Scott Hall, had already pleaded guilty at the end of September.
Two major co-defendants in this trial, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and conservative lawyer John Eastman, author of one of the plans to overturn the 2020 elections, have also not yet indicated that they could testify against the ex-president.
“The admission of guilt of Jenna Ellis is, however, much more serious than the previous ones since it concerns false statements which could directly implicate the former president and by which the lawyer could establish incriminating links with him,” summarizes jurist Jonathan Turley of George Washington University in an interview.
“We may be witnessing a cascading phenomenon,” adds Frank Bowman, professor of law at the University of Missouri. From now on, it is no longer forbidden to imagine other admissions of guilt in exchange for collaboration from other co-defendants in this case. »
Such a prospect would not bode very well for Donald Trump, believes Bruce Rogow, particularly “from the point of view of public opinion”, he says. These admissions of guilt weaken from within the “big lie” of electoral fraud that the ex-president is still seeking to exploit with a view to the 2024 presidential election. The ex-reality TV star dreams of being in again the Republican candidate against Joe Biden and he is currently leading in the race for the party's nomination.
“But it could also help him in his defense by claiming that he did nothing more than listening to his lawyers, without knowing that they were lying to him,” he adds.
Paying the price
The revelations made by the commission of inquiry into the January 6 insurrection could, however, thwart such a line of defense. Investigators provided evidence that the ex-president had been informed on several occasions and by several people, including former Justice Minister Bill Barr, that his accusations of electoral fraud, fueled by the bitterness of his defeat , were unfounded. Barr also used the word “bullshit» in the presence of the ex-president to qualify this so-called fraud.
The defections in the ex-president's lawyer clan are a “victory for Fani Ellis,” says Frank Bowman. “Is this a great victory or a decisive victory? It’s going to depend on the testimony of these lawyers at trial.” The date of the hearing has still not been set.
“But one thing is certain: the prosecutor has taken detailed sworn statements from each of them and the content of these statements will be crucial. »
And he adds: “These recognitions also highlight two truths about Trump. First, everyone who allies himself with him ends up paying the price and suffering for it. And second, even though he claims loyalty from everyone, he has loyalty to no one. If Jenna Ellis and the others fell over, it was in part, we suspect, because they were buried in lawyer bills and Trump refused to help them pay them. »