Donald Trump is distancing himself from Sidney Powell after the Trump-allied lawyer, who joined a failed legal effort to overturn 2020 election results, pleaded guilty to election interference charges in Georgia.
This week’s surprise guilty pleas from Ms Powell and Kenneth Chesebro – the architect of a fraudulent scheme to replace state electors with Trump loyalists – appeared to have caught the former president off-guard, as two of the biggest names yet from his former inner circle agreed to cooperate with Fulton County prosecutors and testify in upcoming trials.
Their new roles as cooperating witnesses in Georgia’s sweeping criminal case targeting Mr Trump and a dozen others could pose a significant legal threat to the former president as he enters several criminal and civil proceedings while he campaigns for the 2024 Republican nomination.
“Despite the Fake News reports to the contrary … MS POWELL WAS NOT MY ATTORNEY, AND NEVER WAS,” Mr Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform on Sunday, 22 October.
Ms Powell, however, was among a group of attorneys including Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis leading a spurious effort with the Trump campaign to reject election results in states that Mr Trump lost.
Mr Trump announced on 15 November 2020 that he “added” Ms Powell to his “truly great team” of lawyers.
During an infamous press conference alongside them that month, Ms Powell aired bogus conspiracy theories falsely alleging that Dominion Voting Systems voting machines collaborated with Venezuela to manipulate the election’s outcome.
Those claims and others were at the heart of Trump-allied lawsuits challenging his loss.
The Trump campaign ultimately cut ties with Ms Powell and insisted that she was “practicing law on her own,” but she returned to the Oval Office during his presidency and was reportedly considered for a special counsel role to investigate voter fraud.
Ms Powell played a central role in an effort to seize voting machines in Coffee County, Georgia in January 2021 in the volatile aftermath of the election - a scheme that was at the heart of the criminal conspiracy charges she was facing in the state.
During a surprise courtroom appearance in Atlanta on 19 October, just days before a trial was scheduled to begin, Ms Powell pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to interfere with elections.
As part of the plea arrangement that drops the criminal charges against her, she received six years of probation and agreed to testify “truthfully against any and all co-defendants in this matter,” according to prosecutors and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee.
Two days later, as prospective jurors were being considered for his trial, Mr Chesebro also reached a plea agreement.
He pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge for filing fraudulent electoral college certificates for Georgia’s election results that were drafted in coordination with Mr Trump’s campaign.
Mr Chesebro and Ms Powell were among 19 criminal defendants, including Mr Trump, in the Georgia case.
Scott Hall, who was among defendants involved with the Coffee County scheme, was the first among the Georgia defendants to reach a plea deal with prosecutors.
A trial date for the remaining defendants has not yet been determined. All have pleaded not guilty.
Ms Powell had similarly tried to distance herself from the former president in the days leading up to a trial in Georgia. Her attorneys argued that she “did not represent” Mr Trump or the campaign because she never signed an agreement to do so.
Both Ms Powell and Mr Chesebro are also among unindicted co-conspirators in a parallel federal case accusing Mr Trump of joining a multi-state criminal conspiracy to obstruct the outcome of the 2020 election, culminating with his alleged failure to stop an attack in the halls of Congress.