Fulton 19 recap: Trump sticks with Fulton venue, first defendant accepts a plea agreement, and more

By: - September 30, 2023 11:05 am

Booking photos from the Fulton County conspiracy case charging Donald Trump and allies with trying to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. Top row, from left Jeffrey Clark, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, Michael Roman, Ray Smith, David Shafer, Sen. Shawn Still. Center row, from left, Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro. Bottom row from left, Robert Cheeley, Harrison Floyd, Stephen Lee, Scott Hall, Misty Hampton, Cathleen Latham, Trevian Kutti. Photos from Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

Former Republican President Donald Trump’s decision to no longer press for his Fulton County election interference case to be moved to federal court signals a change of course in the conspiracy case against Trump and his 18 co-defendants.

Trump’s attorney Steven Sadow notified Fulton County Superior Court about the ex–president’s decision on Thursday. Several weeks ago, Sadow indicated that Trump would seek to have his case transferred to U.S. district court, where laws protecting executive branch officials might strengthen Trump’s defense against 13 felony charges in the sweeping 2020 presidential election interference probe.

“This decision is based on his well-founded confidence that this Honorable Court intends to fully and completely protect his constitutional right to a fair trial and guarantee him due process of law throughout the prosecution of his case in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia,” Sadow wrote in Thursday’s court filing.

The move also means that when Trump’s trial does happen, it will be livestreamed and televised.

Federal Judge Steve Jones had already rejected a request from Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to have his case removed from the Fulton County court. On Friday, he denied similar requests from Jeffrey Clark, a former Trump Department of Justice official, and the three alternate GOP electors who are charged in the case.

Friday afternoon’s whirlwind of developments in the case also yielded more big news: The first of the 19 defendants accepted a plea agreement.

Scott Hall, a bail bondsman accused of entering the Coffee County elections office and illegally accessing voting equipment, pleaded guilty Friday afternoon to five misdemeanor charges. As part of the terms, Judge Scott McAfee, who is presiding over the case, said in court Friday that “you’re to testify truthfully in this case in all further proceedings.”

In the indictment, Hall is also connected to co-defendants, such as Clark, who are not accused of being directly involved in the Coffee County breach.

Trump allies and attorneys Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro are scheduled on Oct. 23 to be the first two defendants in the election interference case to go on trial in the Fulton County court.

There are no trial dates set yet for Trump and the other co-defendants charged under Georgia’s RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). Trump’s decision to proceed in state court tops this week’s roundup of developments in the case and things to know for the coming week.

Hall’s plea agreement and Trump’s decision to proceed in state court top this week’s roundup of developments in the election interference case and things to know for the coming week.

Georgia senator suspended by GOP caucus

Trenton Republican state Sen. Colton Moore’s weekslong quest for a special legislative session to investigate Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for prosecuting the election interference case has earned him a suspension from his GOP colleagues.

The Senate majority caucus wrote in a statement Thursday that Moore continues to violate caucus bylaws in his calls to have a fall inquiry into Willis’ actions, despite insistence from high-ranking Georgia Republicans like Gov. Brian Kemp that it’s not possible.

Sen. Colton Moore ouside Fulton County jail in August 24, 2023. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Senate Republicans said in a public statement that Moore has a right to his opinion but that he has “knowingly misled people across Georgia and our nation, causing unnecessary tension and hostility, while putting his caucus colleagues and their families at risk of personal harm.”

The suspension does not impact Moore’s ability to represent his northwest Georgia legislative district.

In order to hold a special session by the end of the year, not only would the governor’s support be needed, but three-fifths of both chambers would also have to agree. Not only is Kemp not on board, but GOP House Speaker Jon Burns has also described Moore’s demands for a special session as an affront to the “separation of powers, if not an outright violation.”

Moore said in a post on X, which also included a request for donations, that he stands by his decision.

“The Georgia RINOs responded to my call to fight back against the Trump witch hunts by acting like children and throwing me out of the caucus. But I’m not going anywhere,” he wrote in the post.

Despite Moore’s rebuke by his party members, some GOP Senate caucus leaders – including Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who may face his own investigation related to the election interference case – have criticized Willis but point to a controversial new prosecutor oversight commission as a better venue for investigating her.

Other Republican leaders, most notably Kemp, have said they have not seen evidence to support action by the commission.

A group of prosecutors had challenged the constitutionality of that commission, but on Friday, a Fulton County judge declined to intervene. That commission, which has the power to discipline or even remove prosecutors, is now expected to start accepting complaints Sunday.

Willis has denied that her decision to prosecute the case is politically motivated.

“I make decisions in this office based on the facts and the law. The law is completely nonpartisan,” Willis said at a press conference in August after a grand jury handed up the indictments.

Trump New York trial slated for Monday

The Manhattan Supreme Court is set to begin a trial against Trump on Monday for alleged fraudulent business practices dating back a decade.

New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron will preside over the civil trial in which Trump’s co-defendants include his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and the Trump Organization consisting of several hundred businesses.

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed the lawsuit accusing several members of the Trump family and Trump organization executives of illegally overvaluing assets.

Engoron found Trump liable for fraud in a ruling last week that said the elected Democratic attorney general proved the case’s merits. He also said that there is strong evidence that Trump and the co-defendants exaggerated their assets by as much as $2.2 billion from 2014-2021.

Engoron previously appointed an independent monitor to supervise the Trump Organization, which was convicted of tax fraud last year in a New York court.

James’ lawsuit is asking for the defendants to pay $250 million in damages and to be barred from practicing business in the state.

The case is unrelated to Trump being prosecuted in four criminal cases, including Georgia’s 2020 election interference probe.

U.S. House Committee demands answers from Willis

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee Republican chairman sent a letter on Wednesday demanding answers from Willis about her decision to prosecute the Trump election interference case.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announced grand jury charges filed against former President Donald Trump in 2020 election interference probe. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, questioned Willis’ motives for going after Trump and his associates, calling it a political stunt to raise money for her re-election campaign. Jordan also criticized Willis for using state criminal court to regulate the conduct of federal officers and accused her of behaving brashly in media interviews about the case.

The letter is the latest in a tense back-and-forth between Jordan and Willis that goes back to an August letter he sent hours before Trump surrendered at the Fulton County Jail, according to the Hill. Jordan has sent letters to all the prosecutors investigating Trump.

Willis sent a blistering letter earlier this month in response, which Jordan called “hostile.” The district attorney accused the congressman of interference, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time.

“Its obvious purpose is to obstruct a Georgia criminal proceeding and to advance outrageous misrepresentations,” Willis wrote of Jordan’s letter. “As I make clear below, there is no justification in the Constitution for Congress to interfere with a state criminal matter, as you attempt to do.”

The letter sets an Oct. 11 deadline for Willis to turn over any communications her office has had with Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith, who is prosecuting Trump in two criminal cases. One of those cases is related to alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

“Your indictment and prosecution implicate substantial federal interests, and the circumstances surrounding your actions raise serious concerns about whether they are politically motivated,” Jordan wrote.

Deputy Editor Jill Nolin and reporter Ross Williams contributed to this report. 


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo.