Georgia Judge Says Two Defendants in Trump Case Will Get Early Trial Together

Two of Donald J. Trump’s co-defendants in the Georgia election-interference case will go to trial together on Oct. 23, a judge ruled on Wednesday. The defendants, Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, had asked to be tried separately from one another.

The ruling from Judge Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court, however, is contingent on the case remaining in state court — a situation that could change if other defendants succeed at moving the case into a federal courtroom.

Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, is still holding out hope that all 19 defendants in the racketeering case can be tried together. One of her prosecutors said during a hearing on Wednesday that the state would take approximately four months to present its case, calling roughly 150 witnesses. That estimate does not include the time it would take to pick the jury.

But during the hearing, Judge McAfee said he remained “very skeptical” that a single trial for all 19 defendants could work. For one thing, some of the accused, including Ms. Powell and Mr. Chesebro, have invoked their right to a speedy trial while others have not.

The questions raised at the hearing underscore the tremendous logistical challenges prosecutors face in the racketeering case charging the former president and his allies with a multipronged effort to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. It is one of four criminal trials looming for Mr. Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate in the 2024 election.

So far, since his indictment in the Georgia case, Mr. Trump’s only request has been to sever his case from those of his co-defendants who are seeking a speedy trial.

A federal judge is mulling requests from five defendants to move their cases to federal court. Mr. Chesebro demanded a speedy trial in state court.

Ms. Powell made a similar demand soon after, but neither defendant wanted to be tried with the other. Both asked the judge to sever their cases from each other’s.

Lawyers for Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell noted that even though their clients were charged with participating in a conspiracy to overturn Mr. Trump’s election loss in Georgia, the two were charged with very different roles in it.

Prosecutors say that Mr. Chesebro, a lawyer, took part in a sweeping plot to create slates of fake electors pledged to Mr. Trump in several key swing states that he had lost. The charges against Ms. Powell, also a lawyer, stem from her involvement in a data breach by Trump supporters in an elections office in rural Coffee County, Ga.

In court filings, Mr. Chesebro’s lawyers argued that the allegations against Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell were “akin to oil and water; wholly separate and impossible to mix (into one conspiracy).” One of the lawyers, Scott Grubman, raised the possibility that the same jury hearing his client’s case would be subjected to weeks, if not months, of testimony about the data breach that he was not involved in.

Attorney Brian T. Rafferty, who is defending Sidney Powell, argues before Judge McAfee on Wednesday,Credit…Pool photo by Jason Getz

Brian T. Rafferty, a lawyer for Ms. Powell, sounded a similar theme, arguing that Ms. Powell’s defense was “going to get washed away” by lengthy discussions about the fake electors scheme.

But Will Wooten, a deputy district attorney, argued that Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell were part of the same overarching racketeering conspiracy. “The conspiracy evolved: One thing didn’t work, so we move on to the next thing,” he said. “That thing didn’t work, so we move on to the next thing.”

Judge McAfee, in the end, decided that Mr. Chesebro and Ms. Powell would get a fair trial if tried together. He also noted that it would save time and money to combine them.

Still, when or where all 19 defendants will ultimately face trial remains uncertain. The efforts to move the case to federal court have been led by Mark Meadows, a defendant who served as White House chief of staff under Mr. Trump. Such a move would expand the jury pool into suburban counties that are somewhat more supportive of Mr. Trump, and it would increase the likelihood of the United States Supreme Court, a third of whose members were appointed by Mr. Trump, getting involved in potential appeals.

Defendants would still be tried under state laws, however, and the case would not be subject to a president’s power to pardon federal crimes.

While typically only federal officials can get their cases moved to federal court, it is possible that if even one defendant succeeds at it, the others will come with him or her.

Some defendants who were not federal employees at the time the alleged crimes took place are claiming that their role as bogus Trump electors qualifies them for a move to federal court. A lawyer for Shawn Still, a Georgia state senator, argued last month in a legal filing that Mr. Still was acting “in his capacity as a contingent United States presidential elector” and thus “was, or was acting under, an officer of the United States.”

Ms. Willis’s office scoffed at that assertion, arguing in a motion filed Tuesday that Mr. Still “and his fellow fraudulent electors conspired in a scheme to impersonate true Georgia presidential electors; their fiction is not entitled to recognition by this Court.”

Mr. Trump, like the other defendants, has pleaded not guilty, waiving an arraignment that was supposed to have taken place on Wednesday. He continues to use the Georgia investigation as an opportunity to raise money.

“Today was supposed to be my scheduled arraignment in Atlanta,” he wrote to potential donors on Wednesday, adding that, “Instead, I want to make today a massive grassroots fundraising day.”

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