Former Republican President Donald Trump was among 19 people indicted on Aug. 14 by a Fulton County grand jury on felony counts of conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election. (File) Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
The highly-publicized Fulton County 2020 presidential election interference case took a brief break from public view following a busy October filled with court hearings and prosecutors reaching plea deals with several of Donald Trump’s co-defendants in the sweeping conspiracy probe.
Fulton County Superior Court hearings resumed on Friday with a defense attorney representing Harrison Floyd, a former Black Voices for Trump director, pressing a judge to order several government agencies to provide evidence he argues will bolster claims that more than 41,000 missing votes caused Trump to lose Georgia’s presidential election in 2020 to Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden.
Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee is expected to make a decision in the coming days on whether the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, Fulton County Department of Registration & Elections and Fulton County Superior Court Clerk comply with demands from Floyd seeking a voluminous amount of election-related documents.
Floyd is requesting the government agencies turn over 145,000 Fulton absentee ballots from 2020, along with every absentee ballot application and ballot envelope. Floyd also wants to review the full investigative reports regarding accusations that Fulton poll workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss deliberately manipulated a suitcase filled with absentee ballots to favor Biden.
Floyd, a former U.S. Marine and mixed martial arts fighter, is accused of harassing Freeman to intimidate her into falsely admitting to committing voting fraud while counting absentee ballots at State Farm Arena following the Nov. 3, 2020 general election.
Fulton prosecutors allege in a racketeering case that Trump, several of his personal and campaign attorneys, and other Trump allies illegally conspired to overturn the 2020 election.
“If at the time he believed that Trump won and it turns out that we find evidence that Trump won, he may have been justified in what he did,” Floyd’s attorney Christopher Kachouroff said at Friday’s hearing.
Georgia’s top election officials vouched for Biden’s victory after multiple recounts and an audit. Investigations by an Atlanta-based U.S. attorney and Trump’s own Attorney General at the time found no evidence of significant election fraud.
Floyd, who was the only one out of 18 defendants to spend time in custody in Fulton jail, is facing felony charges of racketeering and conspiracy, and influencing a witness and solicitation to make false statements and writings.
Investigators with the secretary of state and Georgia Bureau of Investigation found that the right-wing conspiracies claiming fraud committed by Moss and Freeman were unsubstantiated and false.
Biden was certified the winner in Georgia with a nearly 12,000 vote edge over Trump.
Freeman has spoken publicly about how the allegations spurred so many threats from election deniers that she had to move from a Fulton County home that she resided in for two decades.
Experts predict more pea deals ahead of trial
Last month, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office was spared from an expensive and time consuming trial that was set to start Oct. 23 after co-defendants Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro pled guilty to conspiracy charges, just prior to jury selection kicking into high gear.
Powell was sentenced on Oct. 19 to six years of probation for conspiring to interfere with the performance of election duties while orchestrating a Coffee County elections system breach following the 2020 presidential election.
A day later, Chesebro’s plea deal was approved just of hours after several hundred prospective jurors completed a questionnaire for his trial. Chesebro admitted planning the alternate GOP elector scheme in order to prevent Biden from taking office in January 2021.
Political and criminal law experts said that even when attorneys are not filing a flurry of documents with the court and hearings aren’t being live-streamed, prosecutors and defense attorneys are still busy negotiating behind the scenes.
Fulton prosecutors are expected to continue pushing for Trump and the remaining co-defendants to be tried together on felony racketeering election interference charges.
Shortly after the August indictment of the Fulton 19, Trump’s attorneys and District Attorney Fani Willis were at odds over the prosecutors’ request to begin the trial on March 4, one day before a “Super Tuesday” election when Trump and other GOP presidential candidates are expected to be on presidential primary ballots in Georgia and several other states.
However, a March 4 trial in Fulton could conflict with Trump’s Washington D.C. federal election subversion trial that a judge has scheduled to begin on the same date.
Trump’s attorneys are pushing for the Georgia trial to start sometime after the Nov. 5 general election, with the hope that the Republican frontrunner has by then won a second term in the White House.
A number of political experts have predicted Floyd would be the next defendant to reach a plea deal with prosecutors.
Willis could also face a roadblock in trying to have a large number of defendants tried together inside the downtown Atlanta courthouse. The Fulton D.A. has predicted that the trial will last about four months, with some 150 witnesses being called to the stand.
However, McAfee has expressed reluctance about having a joint trial that involves multiple defendants in a case that’s also expected to draw a large contingent of journalists seeking a seat on the courtroom benches.
“The judge has been clear that it’s not a big enough venue to hold all the defendants and their attorneys,” said Fred Smith, an election law professor at Emory Law School.
Smith predicts that more defense attorneys will echo the lawyers for Chesebro and Powell by arguing that having their clients stand trial at the same time as their co-defendants would prejudice the jury.
Former longtime Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said that the judge will ultimately have the final say over the timing and other logistics surrounding a trial.
He said that Fulton prosecutors will continue applying pressure on defendants with the threat of a looming trial.
There is a high probability that more of Trump’s alleged co-conspirators will reach plea deals in the coming weeks, Porter said.
The four defendants who have entered guilty pleas since the end of September were sentenced to several years of probation and are eligible to have their convictions sealed from court records if they successfully complete the terms of probation and fully cooperate with prosecutors.
“They’ve got to keep the pressure,” Porter said about prosecutors. “How do they do that? You keep saying we’re going to trial in two months. You set up your motions, you provide your discovery, you keep pushing them on their back foot by being aggressive.”
A defendants’ ability to provide damaging testimony as a state witness against co-defendants would depend on if they had direct contact with Trump or other members of his inner circle who the prosecution alleges to be ringleaders, Smith said.
Jenna Ellis, former Trump campaign attorney, is potentially a strong witness for the state since she is likely to have communicated directly with Rudy Giuliani and Ray Smith, as well as possibly with Trump himself, Porter said.
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