Lawyer and former Trump adviser Sidney Powell pleaded guilty Thursday to six misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with performance of election duties. Under Georgia’s First Offender Act, Powell’s plea agreement will result in the discharge of all the criminal charges after she serves six years of probation. 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.
Jury selection in the criminal case against Powell was scheduled to begin Friday on charges returned against her by a grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, in August of 2023. That grand jury indictment, which spanned some 98 pages, charged Powell and 17 other defendants, including former President Donald Trump, on some 41 different criminal counts. The unifying theme of the indictment was that the defendants conspired to “unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump.”
On Thursday, however, Powell struck a last-minute plea agreement with Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis, agreeing to plead guilty to six misdemeanor counts under Georgia’s First Time Offender law. Under this law, Powell will serve six years of probation, after which the criminal charges will be discharged, leaving Powell with no criminal record. As part of the plea deal, Powell must also testify truthfully in the upcoming criminal trials of the other defendants. The former Trump adviser must also pen an apology letter to Georgia citizens and pay nearly $10,000 in fines and restitution.
Powell’s deal resembles, in some ways, the sweetheart “pretrial diversion” agreement Hunter Biden negotiated with the Delaware U.S. attorney’s office, which later fell apart. But there is one huge difference between the two agreements: Powell only agreed to plead guilty because Willis had obtained a grand jury indictment charging her with seven serious felony counts. And in her plea agreement, Powell did not plead guilty to any of the charges contained in the indictment.
The bottom line is this: Willis basically extorted a guilty plea from Powell by charging her with seven serious felonies, including a RICO conspiracy count, two counts of conspiracy to commit election fraud, and one count each of conspiracy to commit computer theft, conspiracy to commit computer trespass, conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy, and conspiracy to defraud the state. With a jury culled from deep-blue Fulton County, the risk of a conviction on even one of the felony counts, and the consequential loss of her law license, would be just too great of a chance for any defendant to take — especially when the plea only involved misdemeanors that would be discharged from Powell’s record following probation. Under these circumstances, it would have been lunacy for Powell to have rejected the plea offer.
But what reason would Willis have to offer such a favorable deal? None, if Willis truly believed Powell committed the felonies for which she was charged and Willis had the evidence to prove them. After all, it is not as if Powell’s testimony is needed to establish the other crimes charged against the other defendants.
So why let Powell off with what would be a slap on the wrist if Powell had committed the felonies as charged? The answer seems clear: Powell hadn’t committed the felonies, and Willis never thought she had. But she overcharged Powell to add gravitas to the supposed election conspiracy claims and to make an offer for a first-offender misdemeanor plea deal an offer too good to refuse.
The Fulton County prosecutor played the same gambit with another defendant, Scott Hall, who reached a similar first-offender deal last month. How many other defendants Willis will seek to squeeze guilty pleas from using this ploy remains to be seen, but it is unlikely to work for several of the defendants because the crimes for which they are being charged are ones that fail as a matter of law.
For instance, the charges Willis brought against the alternative electors, and the lawyers advising the Trump campaign on the appointment of alternative electors, should never reach a jury because the naming of alternative electors was entirely legal and the proper way to protect Trump in the event his legal challenges to the Georgia election succeeded. Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro made precisely that argument last week, and while Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee rejected it, Chesebro can challenge that decision on appeal. Whether Chesebro will, though, or will instead accept a plea deal remains to be seen. But even if Chesebro pleads guilty, it will only take one defendant standing firm to destroy the fake-elector theory.
By charging the defendants with multiple felonies, however, Willis made it exceedingly difficult for them to chance a conviction. And she’d likely be happy with misdemeanor first-offender pleas from everyone — until she gets to Trump — proving Willis didn’t just weaponize the criminal justice system. She went nuclear.