World

Lawyer pleads guilty over efforts to overturn Trump election loss in Georgia

Sidney Powell next to former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani in November 2020 in Washington (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Sidney Powell next to former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani in November 2020 in Washington (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Lawyer Sidney Powell has pleaded guilty to reduced charges over efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 US election in Georgia, becoming the second defendant in the sprawling case to reach a deal with prosecutors.

Powell, who was charged alongside Mr Trump and 17 others with violating the state’s anti-racketeering law, entered the plea just a day before jury selection was set to start in her trial.

She pleaded guilty to six misdemeanours related to intentionally interfering with the performance of election duties.

As part of the deal, she will serve six years of probation, will be fined 6,000 dollars (£4,938) and will have to write an apology letter to Georgia and its residents.

Donald Trump
Former president Donald Trump (Seth Wenig/AP)

She also agreed to give evidence truthfully against her co-defendants at future trials.

Powell, 68, was initially charged with racketeering and six other counts as part of a wide-ranging scheme to keep the Republican president in power after he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden.

Prosecutors say she also participated in an unauthorised breach of elections equipment in a rural Georgia county elections office.

The acceptance of a plea deal is a remarkable about-face for a lawyer who, perhaps more than anyone else, strenuously pushed baseless conspiracy theories about a stolen election in the face of extensive evidence to the contrary.

If prosecutors compel her to give evidence, she could provide insight on a news conference she participated in on behalf of Mr Trump and his campaign shortly after the election and on a White House meeting she attended in mid-December of that year during which strategies and theories to influence the outcome of the election were discussed.

John Fishwick, a former US attorney for the Western District of Virginia, called Powell’s plea a “significant win” for Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis.

He noted that Powell is a very high-profile defendant.

“This is somebody who was at ground zero of these allegations and a lawyer who is pleading guilty,” he said.

“This is very significant.”

Sidney Powell next to former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani in November 2020, in Washington
Sidney Powell next to former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani in November 2020 in Washington (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Powell was scheduled to go on trial on Monday with lawyer Kenneth Chesebro after each filed a demand for a speedy trial.

Jury selection was set to start on Friday.

The development means that Chesebro will go on trial by himself, though prosecutors said earlier that they also planned to look into the possibility of offering him a plea deal.

A lower-profile defendant in the case, bail bondsman Scott Graham Hall, last month pleaded guilty to five misdemeanour charges.

He was sentenced to five years of probation and agreed to give evidence in further proceedings.

Steve Sadow, the lead lawyer for Mr Trump in the Georgia case, expressed confidence after Powell’s plea.

“Assuming truthful testimony in the Fulton County case, it will be favourable to my overall defence strategy,” he said.

Prosecutors allege that Powell conspired with Hall and others to access election equipment without authorisation and hired computer forensics firm SullivanStrickler to send a team to Coffee County, in south Georgia, to copy software and data from voting machines and computers there.

The indictment says a person who is not named sent an email to a top SullivanStrickler executive and instructed him to send all data copied from Dominion Voting Systems equipment in Coffee County to an unidentified lawyer associated with Powell and the Trump campaign.

Trial dates have not been set for the 16 remaining defendants, including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was a Trump lawyer, and Mark Meadows, who was the Trump White House’s chief of staff.