Legal experts warn "Trump should be nervous" after guilty plea requires Sidney Powell to testify

"For Powell to join and to commit to testifying truthfully, is devastating for Trump," attorney warns

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published October 19, 2023 1:07PM (EDT)

Attorney Sidney Powell speaks to the press about various lawsuits related to the 2020 election, inside the Republican National Committee headquarters on November 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Attorney Sidney Powell speaks to the press about various lawsuits related to the 2020 election, inside the Republican National Committee headquarters on November 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sidney Powell, one of 18 co-defendants in former President Donald Trump's 2020 election interference case in Georgia, took a guilty plea with reduced charges Thursday, just a day before jury selection in her case was set to begin, making her the second defendant in the case to broker a deal with prosecutors. 

Powell pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with performance of election duties, according to the updated accusation. As part of the plea deal, she will receive 12 months of probation for each count, totaling six years, as well as a $6,000 fine. 

Powell must also "testify truthfully about any codefendants" involved in the case and "provide all documents to the district attorney's office" relevant to its case against the other defendants, Judge Scott McAfee said in court Thursday, according to ABC News

The agreement also bars her from having "any communication" with any of the co-defendants in the case or members of the media and mandates that she write an apology letter to the people of the state of Georgia, which McAfee noted during Thursday's court proceeding Powell has "already satisfied."

With jury selection scheduled for Friday, her speedy trial in Fulton County Superior Court — which would have been held along with her co-defendant Kenneth Chesebro — was slated to start Monday. Chesebro, who is facing seven charges after prosecutors said he orchestrated a plan to use so-called "alternate electors" to prevent President Joe Biden from receiving 270 electoral votes in the 2020 election, rejected last month a similar plea deal proffered by the state, sources told ABC News. The change in circumstances means that Chesebro will go on trial alone.

"Obviously this ups the pressure on co-defendant Ken Chesebro, whose speedy trial is set to begin tomorrow (initially alongside Powell) to cut a deal with prosecutors," Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Tamar Hallerman wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "We will see."

Powell's acceptance of a plea deal is especially notable considering her strenuous push of baseless conspiracy theories about the election being stolen from Trump despite extensive evidence showing otherwise, according to The Associated Press. If prosecutors call on her to testify, she could provide insightful information about a news conference she participated in on behalf of Trump and his campaign shortly after the 2020 election as well as a White House meeting she attended that December where attendees discussed strategies and theories on influencing the outcome of the election.

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor, predicted that prosecutors would use Powell's testimony as a "guide" during co-defendants' trials. 

"She will be the narrator. She will be able to say, I was in this room with Donald Trump, with Rudy Giuliani. Here’s what we discussed. Here’s who said what. Here’s what we knew," he said, according to Mediaite. "So now they’ve sort of got an ultimate insider, somebody who has remained steadfastly loyal to Donald Trump, to the stolen election narrative. Now she has flipped," he added. "Now she has come clean. Now she’s going to be a prosecution witness."

Barry Coburn, a Washington-based lawyer for Powell, declined the AP's request for comment.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis charged Powell, Chesebro, Trump and 16 others in August in a far-reaching racketeering indictment regarding efforts to overturn the former president's 2020 election loss in Georgia. Powell was initially charged with racketeering and six other counts, including conspiracy to commit election fraud, and, alongside her co-defendants, pleaded not guilty to all charges that month.

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Powell is now the second defendant in the case to strike a plea deal, following bail bondsman Scott Hall's agreement with Fulton County prosecutors late last month. As part of his guilty plea to five misdemeanor charges, Hall was sentenced to five years probation and agreed to testify in further proceedings.

Prosecutors accused Powell of conspiring with Hall and others to tamper with voting machines and hiring computer forensics firm SullivanStrickler to send a team to Coffee County, Georgia to copy software and data from election equipment. The indictment notes that a person, who was not named, sent an email to a top firm executive and instructed him to send all data copied from Dominion Voting Systems equipment in the south Georgia county to an unidentified lawyer associated with Powell and the Trump campaign. 

"This is exactly what the Fulton County, DA hoped would happen: Scott Hall's plea would lead them to Powell, whose own plea deal could lead them to . . . bigger fish without trial dates," MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin tweeted

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In response to the development, legal experts opined that Powell's acceptance of the plea deal could mean disaster for the former president's case. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said on X that Powell's cooperation "could prove devastating for Trump."

"Sidney Powell, leader of the Krakens, pleading guilty to crimes in Georgia is very bad news for criminal defendant Donald Trump," former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal added. "Those of us in the reality-based community knew this for years, but for Powell to join and to commit to testifying truthfully, is devastating for Trump."

But Randall Eliason, a law professor for George Washington University and former federal prosecutor, cautioned that Powell's contributions may be limited.

"Normally a plea from someone like Powell would be huge, based on her potential testimony against bigger fish," he tweeted. "In this case that has to be tempered by the fact that she’s so batsh*t crazy her value as a witness may be limited."

Experts also wondered what effect Powell's guilty plea would have on Chesebro's case.

"A plea to misdemeanor charges signals that prosecutors see high value in her testimony," Vance wrote. "Trump should be nervous. & it's likely she'll be a witness in the fed'l case too. Chesebro next?"

"I think if you're Kenneth Chesebro, you take a handful of misdemeanor pleas under the First Offender Act, withhold adjudication, and hope for the best in the event the Special Counsel's Office comes to you next," Georgia State law professor Anthony Michael Kreis said, referring to a Georgia law that allows someone with no prior felony conviction to avoid normal prosecution and having a permanent criminal record. 

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Kenneth Chesebro Politics Sidney Powell