ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia judge ruled Thursday that former President Donald Trump and 16 others will be tried separately from two defendants who are set to go to trial next month in the case accusing them of participating in an illegal scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Lawyers Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro had filed demands for a speedy trial, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee had set their trial to begin Oct. 23. Trump and other defendants had asked to be tried separately from Powell and Chesebro, with some saying they could not be ready by the late October trial date.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis last month obtained an indictment against Trump and the 18 others, charging them under the state’s anti-racketeering law in their efforts to deny Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over the Republican incumbent.
Willis had been pushing to try all 19 defendants together, arguing that it would be more efficient and more fair. McAfee cited the tight timetable, among other issues, as a factor in his decision to separate Trump and 16 others from Powell and Chesebro.
“The precarious ability of the Court to safeguard each defendant’s due process rights and ensure adequate pretrial preparation on the current accelerated track weighs heavily, if not decisively, in favor of severance,” McAfee wrote. He added that it may be necessary to further divide them into smaller groups for trial.
The development is likely to be welcome news to other defendants looking to avoid being tied by prosecutors to Powell, who perhaps more than anyone else in the Trump camp was vocal about publicly pushing baseless conspiracy theories linking foreign governments to election interferences.
Another defendant in the Atlanta case, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has sought to distance himself from Powell and spoke at length about her in an interview with special counsel Jack Smith’s team in Washington, according to a person familiar with his account who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Also, Trump-aligned lawyer Eric Herschmann, who in 2020 tried to push back against efforts to undo the election, told the congressional committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that he regarded Powell’s ideas as “nuts.”
Chesebro and Powell had sought to be tried separately from each other, but the judge also denied request.
Further explaining his decision to separate the others from Powell and Chesebro, McAfee said he was skeptical of prosecutors’ argument that trying all 19 defendants together would be more efficient. He noted that the Fulton County courthouse does not have a courtroom big enough to hold 19 defendants, their lawyers and others who would need to be present, and relocating to a bigger venue could raise security concerns.
The nearly 100-page indictment details dozens of acts by Trump or his allies to undo his 2020 loss in Georgia, including beseeching the secretary of state, a Republican, to find enough votes for Trump to win the battleground state; harassing an election worker who faced false claims of fraud; and attempting to persuade Georgia lawmakers to ignore the will of voters and appoint a new slate of electoral college electors favorable to Trump.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.