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Pro-Trump Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro Pleads Guilty In Georgia Election Subversion Case; Soon: House Republicans To Meet Amid Speaker Fight. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired October 20, 2023 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The right of the presumption of innocence, the right to testify on your own behalf or to present evidence on your behalf, the right to subpoena witnesses and compel the production of evidence and the right to have charges against you being proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the right to appeal if you were convicted after trial. Do you understand that you're giving up each and every one of these rights by pleading guilty here today?
KENNETH CHESEBRO, PRO-TRUMP LAWYER: Yes, understand all that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has anyone forced, threatened or promise you anything for you to enter into this guilty plea?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is your decision to waive these rights to enter into this guilty plea because you are in fact guilty?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you plea to count 15 conspiracy to commit filing false documents in indictment number 23SC188947?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you and your attorney signed that indictment?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You Honor, the indictment has been signed and (INAUDIBLE).
Is your guilty plea freely involuntary given with full knowledge of the charges against you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you understand that you only have a limited right to appeal this guilty plea?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And do you understand that you would have four years from today's date in order to file a habeas corpus petition challenging the voluntariness of this plea.
CHESEBRO: I do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Your Honor, the state has, in fact, checked and confirmed that Mr. Chesebro does not have any felony convictions at all, so he has no criminal history to the state's knowledge. If this case were to go to trial, the state would have shown the following.
Between November 18th of 2020 and January 6th of 2021, the defendant and co-conspirators, Donald John Trump, Rudolph William Louis Giuliani, John Charles Eastman, Ray Stallings Smith III, Robert David Cheeley, Michael Roman and others entered into a criminal conspiracy to cause certain other co-conspirators, including David James Shafer, Shawn Micah Tresher Still and Kathleen Austin Latham to falsely hold themselves out as the duly elected and qualified electors for the president and vice president from Georgia following the November 3rd, 2020 presidential election.
The objections of -- objectives of the criminal conspiracy included the following. One, to recruit certain individuals to falsely hold themselves out as the duly elected and qualified presidential electors, from Georgia. Two, to create false Electoral College documents, including a false certificate of vote purporting to have been made by the authority of the duly elected and qualified presidential electors from Georgia.
Three, to falsely state that co-conspirator Donald John Trump had won all of Georgia's Electoral College votes. And four, to deliver those false documents to the Georgia Secretary of State, the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Georgia, the Archivist of the United States, and the President of the United States Citizen being the Vice President.
The purpose of creating these and delivering these false documents were to disrupt and delay the joint session of Congress on January the 6th, 2021. By using the false documents from Georgia and other states in an attempt to cause Vice President Michael Pence to violate the Electoral College Act and United States Constitution.
This was part of a multi-state criminal conspiracy to unlawfully overturn the results of the November 3rd, 2020 presidential election in favor of the co-conspirator, Donald John Trump, who did not win that election.
Specifically pertaining to count 15 of the indictment, federal laws require the Electoral College documents are maintained in multiple places, including the United States District Court in where the electors met and cast votes. In the Northern District of Georgia, Electoral College documents are maintained in the clerk's office administrative staff with other non-case related documents, including standing orders and orders from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Document maintained in the administrative safe are public records that can be inspected by members of the public and members of the public hand request certified copies of those documents that contain the clerk's official seal.
Overt acts committed to affect this object of the conspiracy included, but not limited to the following. One, the defendant created and distributed false Electoral College documents to individuals in Georgia and other states in coordination with Donald John Trump for President Inc., also known as the Trump campaign.
The defendant provided detailed instructions to co-conspirators in Georgia and other states for creating and distributing these false documents. The co-conspirator, Donald John Trump and John Charles Eastman solicited the director of the Republican National Committee to assist in recruiting persons to serve as fake electors in Georgia as well as in other states.
Co-conspirators Rudolph William Louis Giuliani solicited persons to serve as false electors and provided strategic instructions to several co-conspirators concerning the execution of the conspiracy in multiple states.
By co-conspirator, David James Shafer, Shawn Micah Tresher Still and Kathleen Austin Latham and others met at the Georgia State Capitol in Fulton County, Georgia on December the 14th, 2020 created false electoral college documents that falsely stated that the co- conspirator Donald John Trump had received all of Georgia's Electoral College votes and delivered those false Electoral College documents to Congress and other governmental entities.
The co-conspirators also attempted to deliver a copy of the false Electoral College --
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: We are listening and watching, which is pretty remarkable, a very significant development in the case against Donald Trump and his co-conspirators, the co-defendants in this case in Georgia.
Kenneth Chesebro, who was Donald Trump's lawyer, has now pled guilty to one felony count. And this is an important plea deal, and I want to bring in some experts to explain more about that. Elliot Williams?
Forgive me, let's listen in for one more minute.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This state has no issue with that, Your Honor. We understand that it will be as such.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What term would you recommend?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Mr. Grubman (ph), are you in agreement with that? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Your Honor. Just to clarify for the record that given good behavior and following the rules and the statute that Mr. Chesebro's probation would terminate after three years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And are you requesting immediate sealing, Mr. Grubman (ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Is there anything else that you'd like to add on to the record, Mr. Grubman (ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would just like to thank the court, Your honor. I know this has been a strain on court resources and a strain probably on your patients. And I know from time to time, I may have been one of the people that calls that, but thank you for your patience. And I really do appreciate it because I think the court's done a great job and we appreciate on behalf of Mr. Chesebro.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Mr. Grubman (ph), there's no need to thank me. We are here to give everyone their day in court. So I hope that's what we've been able to accomplish here today.
Mr. Chesebro, I have a few questions for you, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you understand the remaining charge against you?
CHESEBRO: I do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you've heard the rights that you would give up by going forward with this plea. Do you still wish to waive those rights and proceed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And are you pleading guilty today because you agree that there is a factual basis that supports this remaining charge?
CHESEBRO: Yes, this charge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Grubman (ph), are you satisfied your client is confident and understanding that the plea is voluntary and that there is a sufficient factual basis?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Your Honor. And there is one thing that I was looking over to my colleagues. We have an agreement I believe that this -- the state will agree, this does not constitute a crime of moral turpitude.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is correct, Your Honor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chesebro --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have that in the sentencing sheet, that would be great. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Understood. And I hear that that is without objection from the state.
BASH: OK, as we continue to listen in, I want to bring in Paula Reid. Paula, if you can just explain to our viewers why what we are seeing is so significant when it comes to, not necessarily Kenneth Chesebro, but most importantly, the case against Donald Trump in Georgia.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, for former President Trump, Dana, this is significant not only because it's the second former member of his legal team to plead guilty in Fulton County, but it is significant for what we just heard in open court. It's what he admitted to. Making this far more of a threat than what we heard yesterday from Sidney Powell.
In open court, he just admitted to a charge of felony conspiracy, admitting that he conspired with others, including former President Trump to try to subvert the electoral process. And that is significant, that Trump's name was mentioned in this hearing.
Because yesterday, when another one of his former attorneys, Sidney Powell, pleaded guilty to several misdemeanors, Trump's name was not mentioned. So today, to hear prosecutors lay out those charges, and to hear Kenneth Chesebro admit that he entered into a conspiracy with former President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and others, that is incredibly significant in the broader context of this criminal case.
Now, going forward, Dana, we certainly expect that there will be additional plea deals, but so far, there are three plea deals that the district attorney's office has been able to secure. And in just the past about 48 hours, two incredibly significant plea deals from members of former President Trump's inner circle.
BASH: Paula, I know you speak quite often with sources inside Donald Trump's orbit. Was this something they expected? I know that they were caught off guard yesterday when Sidney Powell agreed to a plea deal, including potentially testifying against Donald Trump. What about this case?
REID: That's such an interesting question, Dana, because I spoke to them earlier when we were expecting a likely plea deal from Kenneth Chesebro. And they conceded that, yes, this could be a problem for the former President Trump if Chesebro and Powell testify at an eventual trial.
They said the most immediate thing that they believed was a problem for the former president. They said his legal team was not going to get what they hoped would be a preview of the Fulton County criminal case. They hoped that when prosecutors put on trial Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, they'd be able to suss out the weakest parts of this case and prepare a more robust defense for their client.
Now that there are two plea deals, they're not going to have that. And that's what I was told was the biggest problem. But, Dana, that was before we heard this in court. So I'm absolutely going to follow up and see what they think because they were likely expecting something similar to what we heard from Sidney Powell yesterday, which was effectively a slap on the wrist.
She was pleading guilty to misdemeanors. Trump's name wasn't mentioned. But this, he's pleading guilty to a felony and admitting in open court that he conspired with others, including their client, former President Trump to subvert the Electoral College process. So this is significant and I'm going to follow up with them because I bet this too caught them by surprise.
BASH: Yes, I'm sure that is probably an understatement and the question is, what does it really mean for him? We don't know the answer to that until we see and hear what now both Chesebro and Sidney Powell are going to offer Fani Willis and the prosecuting attorneys here in this case.
Elliot Williams, I believe we have you as well. Would you like to weigh in on what we're seeing and hearing?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course this is bad for Donald Trump whenever an individual connected to a defendant and frankly their attorney that they've had private conversations with is -- pleads guilty to a crime. It does not bode well for them.
Also pay attention to John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani. These are both individuals that Kenneth Chesebro could provide testimony about with respect to the crafting of what was called the fake electors scheme. All of them played some role therein. And Chesebro could provide a tremendous amount of valid -- valuable testimony there in that process.
And I -- and frankly, I would think that that's far more prosecutors are interested in than testimony that Chesebro could provide about Donald Trump. The other thing that I would note here is that it is a felony, and Paula mentioned this a moment ago as well. Sidney Powell pled guilty to a number of misdemeanors.
Pleading guilty or being convicted of a felony carries a number of restrictions on somebody's rights. It could affect his right to vote. It could affect his right to own a firearm until restored by the governor of the state. So this is quite significant for him and all the other defendants around him.
BASH: Elliot, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
And as we digest that, we remember that I'm here on Capitol Hill because we still don't have a speaker of the House. And part of the reason for that is because a man who Donald Trump supported, Jim Jordan, is still trying to get the gavel, even though, just in the last hour, he failed again and failed even with a greater defeat than he had in the last two times.
I want to bring in Republican Congressman Mike Lawler of New York. I know we've been listening to this, so I just want to -- I'm not going to ask you a ton about about what's going on in Georgia, but before we talk about the speaker's race, what does it tell you, because I feel like a lot of these things are connected? Election denialism, what happened in 2020 and the push to get Jim Jordan in the speaker's chair right now.
REP. MIKE LAWLER (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, look, obviously these court cases are playing out and I will leave it to the juries and the judges and the prosecutors to figure out, you know, what happens in those cases. But I've said repeatedly, Joe Biden won in 2020. What happened on January 6th was wrong and never should have happened.
And, obviously, there's consequences for these things. Voters elected a House Republican majority to govern, to serve as a check and balance on this administration and the policies that they have enacted.
And, you know, for me, the frustration of the last couple weeks is that we have gotten completely sidetracked because of a handful of members in our conference who teamed up with 208 Democrats to upend the House and throw out a duly elected Republican speaker without cause.
And so now we find ourselves in a situation where we can't find consensus on how to move forward, how to elect a speaker and how to govern as a body on the important issues. And that is a real challenge.
BASH: So what happens next? You changed your vote, I noticed, from McCarthy to Patrick McHenry today. He was, and I guess still is, somebody who many of you believe should be moved from just somebody with temporary powers, even though, I guess, some actually think he has more powers than he does. But because this is also unprecedented vote to affirm the fact that he is the current speaker of the House.
That evaporated inside your meeting among --
BASH: -- the House Republicans yesterday because many of -- Matt Gaetz and people of his ilk said we don't want to do that. What happens now? And when you're sending a message with that vote, that that's still your hope?
LAWLER: Look, we have to get the House back open. There are too many important issues from appropriations and spending, to the border, to Israel to stay closed. And, obviously, there's not consensus for 217 votes right now to elect a Republican Speaker.
And so, in order to get about the work that we have in front of us, Patrick McHenry is serving as speaker pro tem, we need to empower him to serve temporarily as speaker so that we can move this legislation across the floor. There is a difference of opinion about whether or not he already has the authority. Obviously, this list that Speaker McCarthy put together was enacted after September 11th to ensure continuity of government. Patrick does not believe, and the parliamentarian does not believe, that he has the full powers of the speakership. And so, what we are saying is, look, let's affirm that he does, in fact, have the full authority to act as speaker.
If we want to put a time period on it, put a time period on it. But we need to get back to work. And --
BASH: He doesn't want to do it if it's going to be maybe even a majority Democrat vote to do that.
LAWLER: Obviously, within the conference, there's consternation about, you know, Democrats voting with Republicans to do this. but to me, that's laughable when you had eight Republicans team up with 208 Democrats to remove the Republican speaker.
BASH: I want to ask you about that because we were talking about this when you came up and now our Melanie Zanona is reporting that Matt Gaetz and the seven others who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy sent a letter to colleagues, you included, saying that they're willing to accept whatever punishment, censure, getting kicked out of the conference committees, if it means that the holdouts, you, will back Jim Jordan.
Is that a deal that you're willing to take, meaning, just to put it in English, if they are kicked out of the conference, is that enough for you to vote for Jim Jordan?
LAWLER: Look, I think there needs to be consensus, right? You got to get to 217. Right now, Jim Jordan does not have consensus. In fact, he's losing votes in each subsequent ballot.
I do believe there needs to be consequence. I do believe what they did was destructive to the conference, to the institution, and to the country. And the chaos that has ensued and the paralysis that has ensued is damaging. But that ultimately is going to be for the conference to decide.
As I said to Jim Jordan last Friday, on Monday, and again yesterday, the only way to solve this is to get the people in a room, that need to be in the room. These folks -- the folks who voted against Kevin in January, the folks who voted down rules, the folks who voted against the conservative CR, together with folks like me, in these swing districts, to discuss how we're going to govern. Because, frankly, it doesn't matter who the speaker is if you can't get 218 on the floor.
BASH: This really doesn't seem like it should be that hard.
LAWLER: It's not that complicated.
BASH: Parents of young children understand --
LAWLER: Yes. BASH: -- that having conversations is the key. Thank you so much.
LAWLER: Thank you.
BASH: Appreciate your time.
And we have more ahead, including the latest comments from Jim Jordan, who again just lost his third bid to be House Speaker. Plus, the latest from the Middle East, where there is no relief to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
BASH: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including the dysfunction, where I am on Capitol Hill. Jim Jordan lost a third vote for House Speaker in the last hour.
CNN's Manu Raju is where he always is here on Capitol Hill. And Manu, you just heard from Jordan. What did he say?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. He's indicating that he's not dropping out, at least not yet. They're going to move, go behind closed doors in the room behind me to debate his future. In fact, they're going to put this to a vote in a secret ballot election behind closed doors to see whether or not there is support for him to continuing on as the speaker candidate.
But just moments ago, our colleague Morgan Rimmer caught up with him on his way back to the office, and he downplayed the fact that he has lost more Republican votes on the third ballot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN RIMMER, CNN NEWS ASSOCIATE: Mr. Jordan, you lost more votes on this round. How much longer do you think you can keep this up?
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: You guys said we were going to lose 15 to 30.
RIMMER: Still, 25 is not a low number. Do you think you can keep this up?
JORDAN: We only lost a couple. We had a couple of absents who would have been for us.
RIMMER: Do you think you'll make up for this in conference?
JORDAN: We're going to try. I think so. And, you know, we got conference here in like an hour.
RIMMER: Got you. Thank you.
JORDAN: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So not showing any signs here that he plans to step aside. Remember, he has gone in the wrong direction. 20 Republicans on the first ballot. He lost 22 on the second ballot. 25 on this ballot.
And when all Republicans are here and voting, he can only afford to lose four. But downplaying the fact that he lost 25, suggesting that perhaps that people thought there could be even more here. So we'll see what happens behind closed doors.
This will be a huge test about whether he decides to go ahead or whether the Republicans find any way of this crisis that has left this House paralyzed and unable to figure out a way forward here, Dana.
BASH: I just want to follow up on this -- what's going to happen next. There's going to be a vote inside the conference as you just said. It's a secret ballot?
RAJU: That's the expectation. Typically these votes go by secret ballot, as you know, Dana. So that's what I've been told.
RAJU: We'll see if they decide to change anything behind closed doors, but that's going to be a test. How do members really feel they'll have the protection of a secret ballot to tell Jim Jordan whether they want him to continue as a candidate or not. But a lot of candidates while Republicans here are ready to move on, Dana.
BASH: Manu, thank you so much. Keep us posted if you hear anything, any white smoke or any other smoke coming from inside that room. Appreciate it.
And I've got some great reporters here who have been very patient in waiting while you're doing. I know you're reporting on your phones. Seung Min, this -- we've covered a lot of this. I've covered this building on and off for three decades. I mean, nothing even comes close to the dysfunction that we are seeing right now.
I mean, because usually there's maybe some solution that's up down the road that we just know we have to get down the road to get there.
SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
BASH: It doesn't exist right now.
KIM: Right. Or there is some sort of forcing mechanism that makes people over there get their act together, but we don't see that right now. You see Jordan, at least publicly, is very dug in. And you have the vast majority of the 25 holdouts. There's nothing you can give them to change their mind. And I don't think Jordan and nor his allies have really come to terms with that at this point.
MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there's a few options. Either all those people change their minds except for four, or you revert to Steve Scalise or Kevin McCarthy or Patrick McHenry or some deal that nobody's come up --
BASH: Or there's somebody that we don't know.
TALEV: Yes. Option f., you know.
TALEV: And so, I mean, that's really the moment we're in. I was in central New York last night talking to a civics group, a local group, a very bipartisan group, many Republicans as well as Democrats. These are voters. These are kind of everyday people. They're furious about what's going on and completely confused and don't understand how it can be happening with the split screen of Israel and Russia's war on Ukraine and the risk of a shutdown.
BASH: And, Heidi, if you want to get from the absurd to the ridiculous, I think both of those things happened, like, a week ago. What you just heard me asking Mike Lawler about -- the congressman from New York -- is the eight Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy are now basically offering themselves as sacrificial lambs, saying, OK, our colleagues.
If you don't want us, if you blame us, fine. Kick us out of the conference. Punish us, censure us, but just please vote for Jim Jordan. And people like Mike Lawler are saying, no, that's not going to happen.
HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, you were right to start off the segment by saying to Seung Min that we just haven't seen anything like this before. But this has been a long time coming. And I think this is one of those moments where we should just step back and remember what John Boehner calls all of this, which was the Chaos Caucus.
And there were a number of people who came to Congress not to legislate, but to cause chaos. They are like the dog that caught the car, OK? Now they are near the pinnacle of power. We're kind of peak cresting here, chaos, and they don't have a platform to govern.
When you listen to Jim Jordan this morning, he was talking about the Wright Brothers. He wasn't talking about what his platform is or what he's accomplished, because he hasn't -- doesn't have any bills to his name. And this is a defining moment for the Republican Party.
Either they're going to come back to someone like Kevin McCarthy or Patrick McHenry or someone's going to have to fall on their sword --
PRZYBYLA: -- and cut a deal with Democrats.
BASH: Yes. And this is, I think, an important point to make, and that is that what you are seeing is an example of and the ultimate example of the fight within the Republican Party. And there are so many, including and especially those who ousted Kevin McCarthy, who just want to continue to disrupt. That is their governing philosophy and not get in there and legislate.
KIM: Right. Which is a tactic that works when you're in the minority party of the House. But they are in the majority. And those tactics are not the tactics of a governing majority. And that faction has been in the House Republican conference for a while, but we're seeing it spilling wide open to the fact that they have no leader.
BASH: Thank you all. Appreciate it. Thank you for your insight. At least it's a beautiful day here --
TALEV: See you here.
BASH: -- in Washington.
TALEV: See you again here.
BASH: Great hertz (ph). Thank you so much for joining us.
The news continues on "CNN NEWS CENTRAL".