Fulton 19 update: Juror screening nears in Trump RICO case, Coffee emails, DA spars with House Rep

Donald TrumpPresident Donald Trump poses for his official portrait at The White House, in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 6, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

October 16, 2023

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office and the defense attorneys representing Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell are preparing to screen jurors for the first 2020 presidential election interference trial in which Donald Trump and 18 of his allies are charged with felony racketeering charges.

Fulton prosecutors and defense attorneys for Chesebro and Powell are waiting for Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee’s approval of a jury questionnaire for 900 prospective jurors.

Attorneys for the defendants and prosecutors submitted questions last week to McAfee regarding prospective jurors’ political affiliations. McAfee said he would work out the final questions before jury selection begins.

Scott Grubman, Chesebro’s lawyer, said McAfee’s jury selection plan was too fast, affecting Chesebro’s chances of receiving a fair trial.

Last month, McAfee summoned 450 Fulton County residents to appear on the opening day of the trial, and another 450 people to appear on Oct. 27.

The pair are set to be the first Trump co-defendants to stand trial on Oct. 23 in the sweeping racketeering case.

No court dates are set yet for Trump and his 16 other co-defendants, who were all charged on Aug. 14 under Georgia’s RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act).

The quest to find 12 impartial jurors and an alternate tops this roundup of recent developments in the case and things for you to know for the coming week. 

New developments in voting systems breach

There will be an opportunity for Fulton County prosecutors to examine new information that has been uncovered regarding a Coffee County voting system breach. 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) discovered this month more than 15,000 emails and documents from former county election director Misty Hampton’s desktop computer that the attorneys for the Coffee County Board of Elections had claimed were lost.

Hampton’s communications were uncovered as part of an investigation sparked in 2022 by a civil lawsuit with leading plaintiffs the Coalition for Good Governance challenging the security of the state’s electronic voting system.

Hampton is accused of allowing computer specialists to hack voting systems in early 2021, alongside Powell; and former Coffee County GOP chair Cathy Latham. They face felonies for tampering with electronic ballots and tabulating machines, moving ballots without authorization and removing voter data from a computer without authorization.

The plaintiffs in the voting systems lawsuit reacted last week to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s retrieval of videos and other documents allegedly showing an orchestrated breach of Coffee County’s voting equipment after the 2020 presidential election.

“Few people believed the bizarre claims made by the Coffee County Board of Elections and their attorneys that Misty Hampton’s emails were suddenly lost shortly after she was terminated in February 2021,” the coalition for governance said in a statement.  

Scott Hall, a bail bondsman from Atlanta, entered a plea of guilty on Sept. 29 to charges related to illegally accessing voting equipment in the Coffee County elections office.

Fulton DA spars with U.S. Judiciary Chairman

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis fired back last week at U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan claiming her motives for pursuing criminal charges against Trump and 18 co-defendants is a political stunt.

Willis wrote on Wednesday that the Ohio Republican is woefully ignorant of Georgia law and the U.S. Constitution in his claims that state criminal courts are improperly regulating the actions of federal officers. Jordan also accused Willis of acting brashly in media interviews about the case.

Jordan, who is now the GOP nominee for speaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, was criticized by Willis for making comments to conservative media broadcaster Mark Levin related to his desire to investigate the criminal prosecution of the Fulton election interference case.

Earlier this month, Jordan sent Willis a letter setting a Thursday deadline to turn over any communications between her office and U.S. Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith.

Willis accused Jordan of being “ignorant” for abusing his power in Congress in an attempt to obstruct the Georgia interference case.

“As I have explained, your requests implicate significant, well recognized confidentiality interests related to an ongoing criminal matter, as well as serious constitutional concerns regarding federalism and separation of powers,” she wrote on Wednesday.

Fulton DA target influential conservatives as witnesses

Two influential conservative figures were added last week to the list of potential witnesses for the trial of the former Trump attorneys. 

Fulton prosecutors requested Wednesday that judges in Michigan and Texas order Alex Jones, a far-right media personality, and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to testify at the trial.

Prosecutors wrote that they plan to ask Jones about his contact with Kenneth Chesebro, an attorney who allegedly orchestrated a GOP elector scheme to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss in Georgia.

Jones’ attorney said that the podcast host will challenge a Fulton subpoena but if Jones has to testify, he will invoke the Fifth Amendment in order to prevent incrimination.

According to the petition, McDaniel would testify about her interactions with Trump and his attorney John Eastman regarding the alternate electoral college scheme in Georgia and several other battleground states.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.