A former lawyer for Donald Trump could soon be providing evidence against him — and not for the first time.
As much as any of her predecessors, Sidney Powell’s testimony looms very large.
Powell pleaded guilty Thursday on the eve of the first major trial involving Trump’s allegedly criminal actions, in Fulton County, Ga. Trump personally won’t face trial yet, but the trial involving Powell and fellow Trump-aligned lawyer Kenneth Chesebro was poised to be the first early test of the indictments against him. (Jury selection in Chesebro’s trial is still set to begin Friday.)
Powell pleaded to six misdemeanor counts of interfering in officials’ performance of their election duties and will serve six years of probation. But perhaps most significantly, her plea deal requires her to testify truthfully at the trials of her co-defendants — including, presumably and most notably, Trump.
So what might Powell be able to provide insight on?
First off, there are major questions about how this might play out. Powell is pleading guilty in the Georgia case involving efforts to overturn the 2020 election, but she was also described — albeit not by name — as an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal case against Trump. (She was referred to as “Co-Conspirator 3.”)
This opens up the possibility that she could invoke Fifth Amendment protections against testifying about key episodes in the federal case, if she still faces potential legal jeopardy there.
But to the extent Powell can speak freely, she would seem to have plenty to speak to.
Powell appears to have served a relatively brief tenure as part of Trump’s legal team. She insists she wasn’t officially his or his campaign’s lawyer, and the campaign distanced itself from her on Nov. 22, 2020. But Trump had announced her as part of his team eight days prior. And Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani described her as one of Trump’s “senior lawyers.”
Despite the opacity over her official role, she was obviously in touch with key players throughout the post-election period, as best exemplified by her participation in a wild Dec. 18, 2020, Oval Office meeting with Trump and other key players. She also worked closely with Giuliani, who participated in that meeting and whose actions Powell could seemingly shed light upon.
Trump’s federal indictment doesn’t dwell upon Powell’s role. It mostly invokes her as a means to argue that Trump knew better about the false voter fraud claims he and Powell were spouting. It on two occasions notes that Trump once said Powell’s claims sounded “crazy.”
“Nonetheless, the Defendant embraced and publicly amplified Co-Conspirator 3′s disinformation,” the indictment said.
In the Georgia indictment, Powell is repeatedly referenced as taking part in the racketeering conspiracy that Trump and every other defendant was charged with. She did not plead guilty to that charge, instead pleading to six charges related to an alleged voting machine breach in Coffee County.
A few key areas stand out when it comes to what Powell could provide.
One is that Dec. 18 meeting. Washington Post reporting and the Georgia indictment have described the meeting as including talk of seizing voting machines, having the National Guard rerun the election and even appointing Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud.
As The Post reported last year, the meeting caused a panic in the White House:
To the extent there was a serious effort afoot to install Powell as a special counsel, it would seem there were likely discussions about what she might do in that role that would be of interest in the broader alleged conspiracy.
Powell could also potentially speak to aspects of the meeting that aren’t well known, including what happened before White House lawyers who testified openly about the meeting showed up. That could include whether “fake electors” or something like the Coffee County effort were broached, for instance.
And the fact that White House staff were so concerned about what was taking place in such meetings would seem to reinforce that it was problematic.
“I think that it got to the point where the screaming was completely, completely out there,” Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann testified to the House Jan. 6 committee. “When you got — people walk in, it was late at night, it’s been a long day, and what they were proposing I thought was nuts.”
Pat Cipollone added: “To have the federal government seize voting machines, it’s a terrible idea. That’s not how we do things in the United States.”
Giuliani testified that he called White House lawyers “a bunch of pussies” for not doing more to aid Trump’s efforts.
The meeting also immediately preceded one of Trump’s most significant comments in the post-election period. Hours after it ended, Trump sent a tweet promoting his Jan. 6 rally, telling people, “Be there, will be wild.”
Trump’s intent with the tweet — including whether he sought to utilize potential unrest — is a key question. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Chesebro wrote days after Trump’s tweet, “I think the odds of [Supreme Court] action before Jan. 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be ‘wild’ chaos on Jan. 6 unless they rule by then, either way.”
Powell also filed a number of lawsuits on Trump’s behalf during the post-election period. All of them failed, but the extent to which Trump and his team were involved will surely be of interest to prosecutors. Prosecutors have repeatedly described such legal efforts as effectively laying a political pretense for attempting to overturn the election results on Jan. 6 in Congress by creating the appearance of uncertainty.
Powell could also be pressed on whether she personally believed the allegations she was making, which included bizarre claims at the infamous Nov. 19, 2020, news conference at Republican National Committee headquarters.
In addition to Trump having allegedly said the claims sounded “crazy,” Powell has acknowledged as part of separate legal proceedings that “reasonable people would not accept [her] statements as fact.” She later conceded that her claims were only “perhaps” true — despite her having said she had proof of them.
While we don’t yet know what Powell can or will testify to, there is no question that this is a significant development for prosecutors as Trump’s criminal cases head to court. (Her guilty plea is the second one in the Fulton County case, but the first involved a seemingly more ancillary player, a bail bondsman named Scott Hall.)
Despite Trump claiming the prosecutions against him amount to “election interference,” someone he identified as his own high-profile lawyer has now effectively pleaded guilty to that crime. And we could soon find out how much she can implicate him in the same alleged crime.