Lawyer and prominent conservative media figure Jenna Ellis pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a felony charge over efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia, tearfully telling the judge she looks back on that time with “deep remorse”.
Ellis, the fourth defendant in the case to enter into a plea deal with prosecutors, was a vocal part of Trump’s re-election campaign in the last presidential cycle and was charged alongside the Republican former president and 17 others with violating the state’s anti-racketeering law.
Ellis pleaded guilty to one felony charge of aiding and abetting false statements and writings. She had been facing charges of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act, known as RICO, and soliciting the violation of oath by a public officer, both felonies.
She rose to speak after pleading guilty, fighting back tears as she said she would not have represented Trump after the 2020 election had she known then what she knows now, claiming she relied on lawyers with much more experience than her and failed to verify the things they told her.
Jenna Ellis is the fourth defendant to enter into a plea deal with prosecutors. The Florida resident pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a felony charge of aiding and abetting false statements and writings. Photo / AP
“What I did not do but should have done, Your Honour, was to make sure that the facts the other lawyers alleged to be true were in fact true,” the 38-year-old Ellis said.
The guilty plea from Ellis comes just days after two other defendants, fellow lawyers Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, entered guilty pleas. That means three high-profile people responsible for pushing baseless legal challenges to Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory have agreed to accept responsibility for their roles rather than take their chances before a jury. A lower-profile defendant pleaded guilty last month.
Steve Sadow, Trump’s lead lawyer in the Georgia case, used Ellis’ plea to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the racketeering charges Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis brought against all 19 defendants.
“For the fourth time, Fani Willis and her prosecution team have dismissed the RICO charge in return for a plea to probation,” he said. “What that shows is this so-called RICO case is nothing more than a bargaining chip for DA Willis.”
He also noted Ellis pleaded guilty to a charge that wasn’t in the original indictment and doesn’t include Trump.
She was sentenced to five years of probation along with US$5000 ($8500) in restitution, 100 hours of community service, writing an apology letter to the people of Georgia, and testifying truthfully in trials related to this case.
The early pleas and the favourable punishment — probation rather than prison — could foreshadow similar outcomes for other defendants who may see an admission of guilt and co-operation as their best hope for leniency. Even so, their value as witnesses against Trump is unclear, given their direct participation in unfounded schemes will no doubt expose them to attacks on their credibility and bruising cross-examinations should they testify.
The indictment in the sweeping case details accusations against Ellis, including that she helped author plans on how to disrupt and delay congressional certification of the 2020 election’s results on January 6, 2021, the day a mob of Trump supporters eventually overran the US Capitol.
Ellis is also accused of urging state legislators to unlawfully appoint a set of presidential electors loyal to Trump at a hearing in Pennsylvania, and she later appeared with some of those lawmakers and Trump at a meeting on the topic at the White House. The indictment further says she similarly pushed state lawmakers to back false, pro-Trump electors in Georgia as well as Arizona and Michigan.
Prosecutor Daysha Young said in court on Tuesday that Ellis attended a December 2020 meeting of Georgia state senators with Trump’s lawyer and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and with Georgia-based lawyer Ray Smith. Ellis “intentionally aided and abetted” the other two as they made false statements to the lawmakers, including that more than 2500 people were convicted of felonies, more than 66,000 people who were under 18 and more than 10,000 dead people voted in the 2020 election in Georgia, Young said.
Before her plea, Ellis, who lives in Florida, was defiant, posting in August on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, “The Democrats and the Fulton County DA are criminalising the practice of law. I am resolved to trust the Lord.”
But she has been more critical of Trump since then, saying on conservative radio in September that she wouldn’t vote for him again, citing his “malignant, narcissistic tendency to simply say that he’s never done anything wrong”.
Along with Giuliani, Ellis was a leading voice in the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, appearing frequently on television and conservative media to tell lies about widespread fraud that did not occur and spread misinformation and conspiracy theories.
She was censured in Colorado in March after admitting she made repeated false statements about the 2020 election.
That punishment was due in part to a November 20, 2020, appearance on Newsmax, during which she said, “With all those states [Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia] combined we know that the election was stolen from President Trump, and we can prove that.”
Powell pleaded guilty to six misdemeanours and was sentenced to serve six years of probation and was ordered to pay a fine of US$6000. Chesebro pleaded guilty to one felony and was ordered to serve five years of probation, pay US$5000 in restitution and do 100 hours of community service. Bail bondsman Scott Graham Hall pleaded guilty to five misdemeanour charges and got five years of probation. All of them were ordered to write apology letters to the people of Georgia and to testify truthfully in any other trial in the case.
Ellis and the other three pleaded guilty under Georgia’s first offender law. That means if they complete their probation without violating the terms or committing another crime, their records will be wiped clean.
Trump and the other defendants, including his White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, have pleaded not guilty.
-Will Weissert and Kate Brumback, Associated Press
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