Leaked videos showing four Georgia defendants speaking to prosecutors in the racketeering case involving former President Trump are bringing into focus the ex-president’s desperate grab for power after losing the 2020 presidential race.
“The boss is not going to leave under any circumstances,” then-White House deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino told ex-Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, according to Ellis’s testimony to Fulton County prosecutors a day before she entered her guilty plea.
“We are just going to stay in power,” he said.
The videos, first reported by ABC News, place Trump at the top of the chain of command of efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia in his favor.
The defendants’ proffer statements bolster the narrative Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis laid out in her 98-page indictment charging Trump and 18 co-defendants with joining a criminal enterprise bent on keeping Trump in the White House.
“The entire idea behind the indictment is that Donald Trump was driving the bus and doing so in a way that was only intended to secure power,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University. “To the extent that this kind of evidence supports that theory, I think it’s really damning to the good-faith justifications that have been put out by his allies and his attorneys.”
ABC News on Monday afternoon published videos of Ellis and another former Trump lawyer, Sidney Powell, giving confidential interviews to prosecutors. Later that evening, The Washington Post published additional details of the interviews, which also described interviews with another Trump lawyer, Kenneth Chesebro, and Georgia bail bondsman Scott Hall.
All four defendants pleaded guilty to lesser charges as part of agreements with state prosecutors. The videos revealed new details about what information the defendants have provided to law enforcement since agreeing to cooperate in the state’s case.
In another excerpt of her interview, Ellis told prosecutors that she believed the alternate electors plot, in which Trump and his allies allegedly sought to produce a different slate of pro-Trump electors to be certified in key swing states, was intentionally kept a secret.
“My belief, essentially, [is] that was shielded from me specifically, but also from the general public, as far as what was actually going on,” Ellis said, according to ABC News.
Chesebro told the Georgia prosecutors about a meeting with Trump in which the lawyer summarized a Nov. 18, 2020, memo to the campaign calling Jan. 6, 2021, “the real deadline” for finalizing Arizona’s electoral votes — another state Trump lost that was involved in the alternate electors plan.
Chesebro also distanced himself from Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, two other defendants in the case, and described the Capitol attack — at which he was present — as the “worst possible thing that could happen,” according to the Post.
And Powell described a Christmas Eve 2020 call with Trump in which she may have apologized for the lack of success in his post-election legal efforts. She told the prosecutors that Trump contacted her repeatedly because he “always wanted to know where things were in terms of finding fraud that would change the results of the election,” according to the Post.
The videos lend insight into what each defendant might say on the witness stand during a jury trial — and the types of questions prosecutors might ask them.
“I think the way that they’re going to attempt to package this to a jury is to show that Donald Trump was not the passive recipient of bad information,” Kreis said. “He was, in fact, a bad-faith actor who was designing the entire scheme to overturn the election, and when every attempt to overturn the election failed, he would work with another person in his orbit to concoct another plan and move on to that plan.
“There was a systemic approach — a kind of methodical approach — to trying to overturn the election, and I think the kinds of questions we saw [from Fulton County prosecutors] are consistent with that,” he continued.
The new evidence makes Trump’s defense harder, further breaking down his legal team’s assertions that Trump was simply following his lawyers’ lead and believing them when they said the election was rigged.
Kreis said that if there was evidence Trump honestly believed he won the 2020 election, he could make that argument to a jury — an argument that would be particularly challenging for prosecutors to counter without evidence that “concretely shows the opposite.”
“That’s really what we have here; we have a slow building of witnesses who can say and testify to the idea that Donald Trump precisely knew that he did not win the election,” he said.
Those building blocks of evidence could come back to haunt him in his other three criminal cases, though perhaps most significantly in the federal case over his efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election results.
Trump’s lawyers in the federal case have indicated that they may use advice of counsel as a formal defense, wherein they would attempt to shift the blame from Trump to the lawyers who gave him guidance about how to proceed in the wake of his election loss.
But with numerous ex-Trump lawyers testifying that they continually sought out ways to reverse the election results at the former president’s behest, such an argument becomes much more challenging to make.
“To the extent that Donald Trump was accepting the information that he wanted to hear and rejecting the information he didn’t — it doesn’t make him a good-faith actor,” Kreis said. “[It] undermines the argument that he was acting in good faith and investigating. Rather, he was looking for ways to secure power any way he could.”
A trial date has not yet been scheduled in Georgia, though Willis indicated Tuesday that a future trial could stretch into early 2025. Trump’s first criminal trial could get underway in just four months, with his federal case over efforts to overturn the election scheduled to begin on March 4.