Powell’s plea deal changes the stakes for Trump and codefendants

Experts say conspiracy theorist could be new star witness in Fulton case

When news broke Thursday that Sidney Powell had taken a plea deal in the Fulton County election interference case, former federal prosecutor Amy Lee Copeland was walking her dog, but it didn’t take long before she was inundated with messages about it.

“My phone was like a volcano erupting,” she said.

The deal could be volcanic for prosecutors as well. In exchange for allowing her to plead to six misdemeanor charges and no jail time, Powell agreed to testify against her former codefendants. She had initially been charged with seven felonies.

Copeland, who is now in private practice in Savannah, said prosecutors must really want Powell’s testimony to give her such a sweet deal.

“Hats off to her defense attorney,” she said. “This certainly was a surprising deal for Ms. Powell,” she said. “I realize that the D.A. knows so much more about her case than I do, and she has the benefit of knowing what Ms. Powell is willing to testify to.”

John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the plea deal offered to Powell seemed “weird” to him.

“It’s a strange plea agreement. She was charged with a bevy of very serious felonies that could have resulted in a substantial prison term,” he said.

Instead, Powell pleaded to misdemeanors, and under Georgia’s first offender statute, she will have a clean record if she completes her probation without incident.

“That’s pretty favorable,” he said.

In court announcing the plea deal on Thursday, prosecutors said Powell had recorded a statement for them. Unlike many of the other defendants in the Fulton County case, Powell spent time in the Oval Office with Donald Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others as they crafted strategy in the weeks after the 2020 election.

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive policy institute at the New York University School of Law, said Powell’s plea could be a game changer, giving prosecutors a new star witness while ramping up the pressure on remaining defendants to take a deal to plead guilty.

Powell, a former lawyer with Trump’s reelection campaign, is the second of the 19 people indicted in August on felony racketeering and other charges to agree to plead guilty. Last month, Atlanta bail bondsman Scott Hall pleaded to five misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with the performance of election duties. But Powell is different, Waldman said.

Scott Hall, (left) along with his attorney Jeff Weiner, appears before Judge Scott McAfee on Friday, September 29, 2023 to plead guilty to charges related to his indictment in Fulton County.

Credit: Screenshot from Fulton County Superio

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Credit: Screenshot from Fulton County Superio

In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, Powell rose in the national consciousness as one of the most outspoken advocates for Trump’s claims of election fraud. She made bogus claims that voting machines were hacked, flipping millions of votes from Trump to Joe Biden. Trump welcomed her advocacy, giving her White House access.

“As outlandish as her claims were and as extreme as she was, she was welcomed into the heart of the conspiracy by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani,” Waldman said. “If she is willing to testify about it, it could be very significant in this case and the others as well.”

Hall also agreed to assist prosecutors and testify as part of his plea agreement, and Copeland thinks the bail bondsman could be important to the case because of his connections to the many different legs of the alleged conspiracy. But she agreed that Powell “has a higher marquee value” because of her proximity to Trump and the other top defendants.

Malcolm said the fact that Hall had already taken a deal and likely would be a witness against her provided more pressure to plead out. Now Powell can be a witness against Chesebro, but it’s not clear what she will say, he said.

Powell is more likely to have damaging testimony against others, like Giuliani and Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, Malcolm said.

“I don’t know what story she is going to tell about them,” he said. “She’s clearly got something to say.”

The plea deal also ratchets up pressure on the remaining defendants to take a plea deal that could help them avoid jail time.

“The people who come in early tend to get a better deal,” Copeland said.

“A lot of defendants are probably calling their lawyer and saying, ‘Maybe I ought to plead too,’” Waldman added.

But Waldman said Powell’s guilty plea is important for other reasons.

“She was one of the most visible voices of the Big Lie,” he said, using the term Trump’s detractors often use to describe his baseless election claims. “She has admitted it was a crime, it was wrong.”

That could have an impact on the millions of Americans who bought into her and Trump’s unfounded claims that the election was stolen, he said.