Judge severs Trump's GA election interference case, and 16 others, from trial starting in October

Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell will be tried starting Oct. 23.

ByOlivia Rubin, Peter Charalambous, and Lucien Bruggeman ABCNews logo
Thursday, September 14, 2023
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The judge overseeing the Georgia election interference case has severed the case, ordering that 17 defendants -- including former President Donald Trump -- will not be tried alongside speedy trial defendants Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell on Oct. 23.

In a blow to prosecutors, Judge Scott McAfee said severing the remaining 17 defendants was "a procedural and logistical inevitability," and did not rule out the possibility that "additional divisions" may be required later.

The judge, however, said that any defendant who does not waive their right to speedy trial before Oct. 23 will "immediately" join the trial. Trump has already waived his speedy trial rights.

NOTE: The video in the media player is from a previous report.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis had been seeking to have all 19 defendants in the case stand trial together, arguing that multiple trials would create an "enormous strain" on the court.

McAfee last week ordered Chesebro and Powell to be tried on Oct. 23 after they filed speedy trial requests.

Chesebro, as part of his defense, had filed a motion asking the DA to disclose the identities of the 30 unindicted co-conspirators referenced in the indictment, and prosecutors told McAfee at a hearing Thursday that they would do so.

The names will be shared with defense under a protective order, so they will not be made public.

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McAfee also signaled a willingness to grant defense counsel access to transcripts for the witnesses who testified before the special purpose grand jury used in the DA's original probe, a move that attorneys for Powell and Chesebro endorsed in motions and in court Thursday.

The judge said he would take the matter "under advisement ... but as an initial thought, at a minimum, it's going to be granted in part as to any witnesses the state plans to disclose."

In a heated moment during the hearing, a prosecutor from the DA's office accused one of Chesebro's attorneys of prior inappropriate behavior related to Chesebro's motion seeking to speak to members of the grand jury to determine if there was any impropriety in the grand jury process.

The remark prompted Chesebro attorney Scott Grubman to spring up and yell that his co-counsel was being "defamed."

"That was completely inappropriate," Grubman told the judge in defense of his co-counsel.

Judge McAfee attempted to get Grubman to move on and "stay on the issue," telling him, "I said it's over."

But Grubman responded, "I wish you would have stopped her from defaming my co-counsel."

In his order severing the remaining cases from Chesebro and Powell, McAfee cited issues regarding due process and the voluminous discovery in the case.

"The precarious ability of the Court to safeguard each defendant's due process rights and preparation ensure adequate pretrial preparation on the current accelerated track weights heavily, if not decisively, in favor of severance," his order stated.

The judge also laid out numerous logistical concerns about a 19-person trial, saying the courthouse "simply contained no courtroom adequately large enough to hold all 19 defendants."

McAfee said the court would "endeavor" to have a jury selected and sworn in for the Oct. 23 trial by Nov. 3.

Trump and 18 others have pleaded not guilty to all charges in a sweeping racketeering indictment for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia.

The former president says his actions were not illegal and that the investigation is politically motivated.

Chesebro is accused in the DA's indictment of drafting a strategy to use so-called "alternate electors" to prevent Joe Biden from receiving 270 electoral votes -- but his attorneys have argued that the action was justified since Chesebro, in working for Trump, was "fulfilling his duty to his client as an attorney."

Powell is accused of conspiring with other co-defendants to commit election fraud by allegedly encouraging and helping people tamper with ballot markers and machines inside an elections office in Coffee County.

Following the hearing, Chesebro's attorney sounded pleased by the judge's decision to sever the case.

"Let's do it," Grubman said when asked by ABC News for his reaction to the severance order. "Oct. 23 can't come fast enough."

Grubman said they are ready to go to trial, and reiterated that Chesebro, in his actions, was merely acting as a lawyer to the Trump campaign.

"Mr. Chesebro is not a politician," Grubman said. "Mr. Chesebro is an attorney who had a specific job, to advise the Trump campaign on certain very obscure areas of the law, and that's what he did."

"Our client is entitled to a speedy trial, our client is going to get a speedy trial, and we're not going to be the ones to try to delay that," Grubman said.