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Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Right-wing media baselessly claim that Trump’s election subversion case in Georgia is “weak” after four defendants plead guilty

Conservative media falsely claim that the plea deals offered to co-defendants prove that DA Fani Willis “overcharged” the case

As four co-defendants in former President Donald Trump’s Georgia election subversion case recently pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, right-wing media twisted the facts to further their “witch hunt” narrative.

    • Four co-defendants in the Georgia election subversion case — Scott Hall, Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro, and Jenna Ellis — pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Trump and the other defendants. By accepting the plea deals, they were able to avoid being charged under Georgia’s RICO act. [The Hill, 10/22/23; The Washington Post, 10/24/23]
    • Testimony from these individuals will “give Willis and her prosecutors more bricks to use against Trump at trial,” which explains why the DA would be willing to drop other charges in their plea deals. The prospect of testimony from Powell, Chesebro, and Ellis is particularly “ominous” for Trump and the other co-defendants, as the three “could paint a detailed collective portrait of Mr. Trump’s activities in the postelection period.” [New York magazine, 10/25/23; USA Today, 10/21/23; The New York Times, 10/24/23]
    • Legal expertise suggests that these deals are not out of the ordinary, as plea bargaining “makes up the vast majority of criminal justice transactions today.” Cynthia Alkon, a law professor at Texas A&M University School of Law, told The Conversation that “prosecutors rely on plea bargaining at times to strengthen their cases by offering deals contingent on a defendant agreeing to testify against another person,” indicating that Willis’ decision to offer pleas to Powell, Chesebro, and Hall is fairly typical. [Vera Institute, 9/2020; The Conversation, 10/23/23]
  • Right-wing media insist that the leniency of the plea deals is proof that Willis “overcharged” the defendants and that she has a “weak” case

    • National Review published an article titled “Sidney Powell’s Guilty Plea Points to a Faltering Case in Atlanta.” The article by Fox News contributor Andrew McCarthy claimed, “While the media spin will be different, my first impression of Sidney Powell’s guilty plea in the Fulton County election-interference case is: It signals that District Attorney Fani Willis’s much-heralded RICO indictment — in which 19 are charged, including Powell’s famous co-defendant Donald Trump — is a dud.” [National Review, 10/19/23]
    • The Washington Examiner’s Byron York suggested that Willis dropping “the super-duper grand conspiracy charge against an alleged key player” was suspicious. His full post read, “For you lawyers out there: Wasn't Sidney Powell charged with taking part in the super-duper grand conspiracy that Fani Willis alleged in the Trump election indictment? A felony, of course. And now Willis drops the super-duper grand conspiracy charge against an alleged key player?” [Twitter/X, 10/19/23]
    • Former co-host of Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast Raheem Kassam posted that Powell’s plea deal “suggests their case was not as strong as they originally believed.” Kassam wrote, “Corporate media will crow about Sidney Powell's plea deal. But the fact she's being fined $6,000 and being made to write an apology letter suggests their case was not as strong as they originally believed…” [Twitter/X, 10/19/23]
    • Conservative influencer Will Chamberlain claimed that Powell and Chesebro’s plea deals are a “a pretty serious embarrassment for Fani Willis.” His full post read, “So both Sidney Powell and Ken Chesebro get plea deals for zero jail time. They were facing a mandatory minimum of five years on the RICO counts and a maximum of 20 years. This is a pretty serious embarrassment for Fani Willis.” [Twitter/X, 10/20/23]
    • Conspiracy theory outlet WDN, formerly WorldNetDaily, published an article titled “Prosecutor offering plea deals to Trump co-defendants to bag the 'real target.'” The article quotes William A. Jacobson, a Cornell Law School professor and founder of the conservative website Legal Insurrection: “While the prosecution’s willingness to accept plea deals may reflect they have been ‘overcharging defendants,’ Jacobson said they are keeping their eyes on the ‘real target’ — the former president.” The Daily Caller also quoted Jacobson’s claim about Willis “overcharging.” [WND, 10/23/23; The Daily Caller, 10/21/23]
    • WND quoted Molly McCann Sanders, Powell’s previous co-counsel, who claimed, “The fact that Fani Willis dropped all 7 felonies tells the tale. She had no case, but she did have the coercive power of the state.” Conservative Brief also included the Sanders quote and claimed that Powell’s guilty plea “could be good for Trump.” [WND, 10/22/23; Conservative Brief, 10/20/23; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/19/23]
    • The Federalist published an article titled “Sidney Powell’s Plea Proves Fulton County Prosecutor Went Nuclear To Get Trump.” The article argues, “That the Fulton County prosecutor settled for these misdemeanor charges when Powell faced seven major felony counts — including an expansive RICO conspiracy count — confirms the criminal justice system was weaponized to get Trump.” [The Federalist, 10/20/23]
    • Newsmax guest and former Trump administration official Theodore Wold claimed on Wake Up America that “this isn't the architecture of a massive RICO conspiracy as they lead us to believe over the last few months,” predicting the latest plea deal “isn’t really going to harm the president’s defense strategy.” Host Michael Grimm then asked right-wing attorney Jared Roberts if “this actually proof that the DA overcharged?” Roberts answered, “I think it’s definitely proof that they overcharged. These charges have been baseless since the beginning.” [Newsmax, Wake Up America, 10/22/23]