The recent guilty pleas from three lawyers aligned with former President Donald J. Trump – Kenneth Chesebro, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis – have caused a ripple of surprise and uncertainty in both state and federal courts. While these developments are undoubtedly positive for special counsel Jack Smith, they also present numerous logistical and legal challenges in holding Mr. Trump accountable.
Unlike the streamlined case brought by Mr. Smith, Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis has taken a different approach by indicting 18 co-defendants along with the former president. While some critics argue that this strategy could prolong the process, Ms. Willis has proceeded swiftly, securing plea deals from the three lawyers within a week.
Consequently, the timing of Mr. Trump’s federal trial remains uncertain. Despite his attempts to postpone it until after the 2024 election, the trial is currently scheduled for March. The plea agreements and the possibility of additional co-defendants striking deals further complicate matters, making it challenging to determine when the trial in the Georgia case will begin.
What Can Be Used as Evidence?
While evidence from the Georgia defendants can be admissible in the federal trial, the situation is complex. Any publicly released documents or statements, including court appearances by the Fulton County defendants, can serve as evidence. However, it is unlikely that Mr. Trump’s Georgia trial would take place before the federal case, meaning any public testimony against him would likely occur after Mr. Smith presents his case.
Additionally, Ms. Willis has discretion in deciding whether to share material that has not entered the official record with Mr. Smith’s team. This poses a challenge for federal prosecutors, as they often prefer to proceed first to avoid deferring to locally elected district attorneys who answer to voters.
Coordination Between Ms. Willis and Mr. Smith
At present, contact and coordination between Ms. Willis and Mr. Smith have been limited. However, the recent plea deals could alter this dynamic, potentially fostering collaboration between the two prosecutors. While the Justice Department does not prohibit interactions with other offices, the guidelines emphasize the importance of carefully handling parallel proceedings to avoid any accusations of misconduct.
Protection and the Fifth Amendment
If Mr. Smith subpoenas the three lawyers who have pleaded guilty as witnesses against Mr. Trump, they retain the right to assert their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in federal court. However, exercising this right may offer limited protection, as federal charges could be brought against them.
Overall, the guilty pleas have introduced new complexities to the ongoing legal battle surrounding Mr. Trump. As the case unfolds, both state and federal prosecutors must navigate these challenges while striving for accountability.
Can evidence from defendants in Georgia be used against Mr. Trump in his federal trial?
Yes, but it is a complicated process. Publicly released documents and statements can be admissible as evidence in the federal trial. However, it is uncertain when the Georgia trial will begin, potentially leading to public testimony against Mr. Trump after Mr. Smith presents his case.
Are Ms. Willis and Mr. Smith coordinating their efforts?
Contacts between the two prosecutors have been minimal so far. However, the recent plea deals could stimulate collaboration between them, considering the federal guidelines encourage early cooperation between federal prosecutors and state officials to avoid conflicts.
Can defendants who cooperate with Ms. Willis assert the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in federal court?
Yes, defendants can assert their Fifth Amendment rights. However, this protection might be limited, as federal charges could be brought against them.