Trump Secures a Rare Victory in Georgia Election Case

Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell will have a trial on Oct. 23, but President Trump and 16 others will be tried later.
Trump Secures a Rare Victory in Georgia Election Case
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives at the Monument Leaders Rally hosted by the South Dakota Republican Party in Rapid City, S.D., on Sept. 8, 2023. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

A judge ruled Thursday that former President Donald Trump's Georgia election case won't start in October.

The ruling (pdf) from Judge Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court stated that the former president will be tried separately from and after the trials of two of his former attorneys, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, in the case.
No specific date has been set for President Trump's trial in the case, where 19 defendants were criminally charged in August with violating Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, along with a laundry list of other charges, in their efforts to dispute the 2020 election results in Georgia.

Online records from the Fulton County Sheriff's Office showed President Trump was booked on 13 charges related to allegations that a strategy by several lawyers counseling President Trump to set up alternate groups of electors in multiple states, thereby postponing the electoral vote count, amounted to a criminal enterprise. All have pleaded not guilty.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis had been pushing to try all 19 defendants together, arguing that it would be fairer and more efficient.

Judge McAfee cited logistical concerns and the pending legal issues in separating the trial of Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell from that of President Trump and the other 16 co-defendants.

“The precarious ability of the Court to safeguard each defendant’s due process rights and ensure adequate pretrial preparation on the current accelerated track weighs heavily, if not decisively, in favor of severance,” the judge wrote. He also hinted at the possibility of further splitting the cases among the 17 remaining defendants.

 Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee hears motions from attorneys representing Ken Chesebro and Sidney Powell, two co-defendants of former President Donald Trump, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Ga., on Sept. 14, 2023. (Miguel Martinez/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee hears motions from attorneys representing Ken Chesebro and Sidney Powell, two co-defendants of former President Donald Trump, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Ga., on Sept. 14, 2023. (Miguel Martinez/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

He expressed doubts about the prosecutors' claim that a joint trial for all 19 defendants would streamline the process.

Judge McAfee further pointed out that the Fulton County courthouse doesn't have the space to accommodate all involved, and that finding a larger venue might pose security issues.

The prosecutors argued that they'd be presenting the same witnesses and evidence under Georgia's RICO Act for every trial in this case, and told the judge last week they'd expect any trial to take four months, excluding the jury selection phase.

However, Judge McAfee noted that each defendant still needs time for introductory remarks, concluding arguments, cross-examinations, and challenges to evidence.

"Thus, even if the State’s case remains identical in length, and the aggregate time invested by the Court is increased, the burden on the jurors for each individual trial is lessened through shorter separate trials," he wrote.

At an unrelated news conference Thursday, Ms. Willis said that her office is capable of trying big cases. "We're not scared of large RICO indictments and we’re here for the task and ready to go,” she said.

Ms. Powell and Mr. Chesebro had sought a speedy trial. Judge McAfee on Sept. 6 set their trial to begin Oct. 23. He said that he will try to have a jury seated by Nov. 3 to satisfy their requests for a speedy trial.

"With each additional defendant involved in the voir dire process, an already Herculean task becomes more unlikely," he wrote.

Ms. Powell and Mr. Chesebro had also sought to be tried separately from each other, but the judge denied that request.

Judge McAfee also noted that five defendants are currently seeking to move their cases to federal court and litigation on that issue continues.

"How a grant of removal midtrial would impact this case, particularly on the issue of double jeopardy, remains unclear and unanswered in the State’s supplemental briefing," he wrote, adding that "overlooking or wrongly adjudicating these legal uncertainties risks automatic acquittal."

Co-defendant Mark Meadows, former chief of staff to President Trump, had filed a notice to remove his case to federal court one day after the indictment. The request was denied by U.S. District Judge Steve Jones on Sept. 8. Mr. Meadows is appealing the ruling in the 11th Circuit.

On Thursday, Mr. Meadows withdrew a request to stay the order sending his case back to state court while his appeal was pending. He cited the appeals court's approval of an expedited review and the scheduling order that Judge McAfee entered for the defendants who will not be tried in October.

Four other defendants have filed similar notices as Mr. Meadows to remove their case to federal court. They have hearings before Judge Jones scheduled next week.

Also Thursday, Judge McAfee held a motions hearing for Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell, both of whom are seeking the names of unindicted co-conspirators mentioned in the indictment and are trying to speak with the grand jurors who returned the indictment. Mr. Chesebro wants transcripts, recordings, and reports from a special grand jury that aided the investigation.

Prosecutors agreed to disclose the names of the unindicted co-conspirators but objected to the other two requests. Judge McAfee said he would rule on those two matters later.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.