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Judge rules two of Trump's codefendants in 2020 election case are split from rest

The ruling came just before a hearing on motions from Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell. Donald Trump won't have an October trial

ATLANTA — A Fulton County Superior Court Judge ruled Thursday that two defendants in the 2020 Georgia election case will be tried together and split off from the rest. The decision spares Donald Trump from an October trial in Atlanta.

Fulton judge Scott McAfee ruled that Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, attorneys who assisted Trump following the election, will have their scheduled Oct. 23 trial separate from the remaining 17 codefendants. Several of them had filed motions to sever from Chesebro and Powell after they filed speedy trial demands, which requires their case to begin before an early November deadline.

Trump and the 16 others will remain together for now. However, McAfee added that further splits may come. 

The ruling came just before a hearing on motions both Chesebro and Powell had pending before the court. McAfee said during that hearing he would attempt to have a jury sworn in for their trial by Nov. 5.

"After considering the parties’ filings and without the need for a hearing, the Court further finds that severing the remaining 17 co-defendants is simply a procedural and logistical inevitability," McAfee wrote. 

McAfee considered the following motions Thursday:

  • A motion to interview grand jurors 
  • A motion to unseal special purpose grand jury transcripts
  • A motion to disclose the 30 unindicted co-conspirators

During the hour-and-a-half hearing, special prosecutor Nathan Wade told McAfee that the Fulton County District Attorney's Office would turn over documents identifying the unidentified co-conspirators mentioned in last month's indictment. However, Wade asked the information not be disclosed to the public or media outlets. The list was provided to attorneys representing Chesebro and Powell during the hearing.

McAfee did not rule on the other two motions. The judge asked attorneys for Chesebro and Powell to submit proposed questions and topics they'd like to discuss with the jurors during voluntary interviews. Prosecutors said during Thursday's hearing that they do not want jurors to be interviewed.

Scott Grubman, one of Chesebro's attorneys, told the court that the interviews would help determine if grand jurors reached their charging decisions without interference from Atlanta prosecutors. Grubman wants to determine if grand jurors read the indictment or if prosecutors merely summarized the document. Chesebro's legal team has argued in court filings that an indictment returned by jurors who did not fully read the document is legally invalid.

"The law is clear. The grand jury must act independently of the prosecution," he said.

Fulton prosecutor Daysha Young argued those matters bleed over into the jury's deliberations, a process that must be kept secret under state law. She also stressed the importance of taking precautions to keep jurors safe. 

The state filed a motion last week to restrict the identity of jurors in this trial. The motion includes sworn statements from Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum and an investigator from the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, detailing various threats made against District Attorney Fani Willis. The pair also said the personal information of grand jurors who indicted Trump and the other 18 people was posted on a website owned by a Russian company.

"If we're going to do this — which once again the state does not believe we should — it's going to have to be crafted very carefully," Young said of the juror interviews. "If this does happen, this state believes it should be something that is done with (the judge) and just the foreperson. They can get whatever information they need from that one person."

Several key matters in the election cases remain unresolved.

Several codefendants, including Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Chesebro, filed motions to have the criminal charges dismissed. Others, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, want their cases removed to federal court. Meadows' motion is now in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit after a federal judge denied his request.

Trump and 18 others were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury last month for their alleged criminal interference in the 2020 election. This is the fourth criminal case brought against Trump this year. It comes as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination ahead of the 2024 election. 

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