The first hearing in the case, which accused Donald Trump and 18 others of trying to reverse the results of the 2020 Georgian presidential election, was held in Georgia on Wednesday: it was televised live, unlike the three other criminal cases in which the former was accused President is accused.
Special Counsel Nathan Wade told Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee that he estimates the trial could take about four months and that the Fulton County Attorney’s Office expects to call more than 150 witnesses.
In the case, based on a law against mafia organizations known as the Rico Act, the 19 defendants are charged with conspiring to reverse the results of the 2020 Georgia state election in which Democrat Joe Biden defeated Trump narrowly defeated by two-tenths, the closest in all the country.
District Attorney Fani Willis intends for all 19 defendants to be tried together. However, some of the defendants are attempting to separate their cases, calling for an expedited trial or surrender to federal jurisdiction.
For his part, Trump has asked to be charged separately from those calling for an expedited trial. All have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors had requested that all be tried in October, but the judge kept that date only for attorneys Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell.
Fulton County Chief Justice Scott McAfee hears motions from attorneys representing Ken Chesebro and Sidney Powell in Atlanta on Wednesday, September 6, 2023.
These are the main clues to what happened during the hearing:
The absence of Trump’s lawyers
Although Trump is one of the key defendants in the case, his attorneys were absent from Wednesday’s hearing.
During the hearing, Scott Grubman, an attorney for Chesebro, suggested that Trump’s presence in the Fulton County case could cloud the jury’s view of the other defendants.
Grubman further argued that Chesebro was not a politician and had previously been unknown to the public.
“It’s just not fair to force him to sit here in a trial where there’s evidence of all these other things,” he said.
Chesebro and Powell in a joint process, but separate from the rest of the parties
Although McAfee suggested Powell and Chesebro be separated from the other 17 defendants, on Wednesday it denied their requests to separate their cases and ruled they would go to court together on October 23.
“I don’t think the separation is necessary to fairly determine whether each defendant is guilty or not,” McAfee said.
He also said two protracted hearings would clog the court calendar and cause “inconvenience” to jurors.
Chesebro’s attorneys had requested a speedy hearing for Oct. 23, a date the judge had already approved, and on Wednesday McAfee said he would issue a similar order for Powell.
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Skepticism about dealing with a quick and joint process
In any case, McAfee expressed skepticism about the desire of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to hold a joint trial for the 19 defendants in October.
The judge has already set Chesebro’s trial date for October 23 after requesting a speedy trial under Georgian law, and Willis responded with a request that all 19 defendants be tried at the same time.
McAfee did not deny that request, but raised concerns during Wednesday’s hearing.
“It seems unrealistic to do all 19 in about 40 days,” McAfee said, referring to the time remaining until the October deadline already agreed.
Prosecutors said the case was the same with either one or 19 defendants and opposed dividing the defendants into separate trials.
However, McAfee thought the timeline was overly optimistic, saying it “could easily double that” given the number of defendants in the case.
He said he hopes to decide on trial dates at next week’s hearing.
Attorneys’ tactics of separating their clients’ cases
Counsel for Chesebro and Powell followed the same strategy, aiming to distance their client from the other co-defendants.
Manny Arora, representing Chesebro, said his client was not involved in most of the conspiracies alleged by Fulton County prosecutors and tried to make Chesebro appear like a more rational actor than Powell.
Arora noted that Chesebro had never met with Powell and had never been to Coffee County, Georgia, where an electoral violation is part of the allegations.
Speaking, Powell’s attorney, Brian Rafferty, made the same remark, saying Powell did not know Chesebro and was not involved in voters’ false allegations against Chesebro.
Prosecutors argued that under the present RICO law, the fact that two members of a criminal conspiracy do not know each other does not absolve them from being part of the conspiracy.