Trump on trial: The limits of MAGA legal are exposed


There’s a lot going on in the world and here at home at the moment so it’s not surprising that Donald Trump and his legal problems aren’t front and center in our political coverage. Trump himself is very upset by this, lamenting on Truth Social earlier this week that he’s forced to appear at the courthouse in New York where his fraud trial is being held (he isn’t) and complaining that nobody’s paying attention to him, posting, “despite my being here, the talk is all about Biden getting ready to fly to the Middle East…” 

But even though nobody is paying close attention to all of his troubles at the moment, there is quite a bit of news on the Trump legal front and some of it may have some very unpleasant consequences for the former president. The fraud trial is not going particularly well for him with ex-Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg possibly having committed perjury on the stand which could mean his plea deal with the Manhattan District Attorney in the Trump Org case is in danger. Weisselberg went to jail for five months in that case but could easily see more time if that’s proven. 

Legal filings by special prosecutor Jack Smith in both the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case and the January 6 case have been flying back and forth and none of them have been particularly helpful to Trump. Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is hearing the January 6 case issued a narrow gag order this week, saying “First Amendment protections yield to the administration of justice and to the protection of witnesses. His presidential candidacy does not give him carte blanche to vilify … public servants who are simply doing their job.” Trump has promised to appeal, no doubt in the hopes of delaying the trial since simply complying with that order would actually be quite easy to do. 

The Mar-a-Lago case has turned out to be trickier than most observers expected after it drew the inexperienced Trump appointee (and Federalist Society guru Leonard Leo protegé) Judge Aileen Cannon. It appears that she will be helping Trump to drag the case out for months by slow-walking her decisions at every turn. But at some point, he knows the law is coming for him in that case and it’s a very strong one for the government. He’s hanging his hopes on winning the presidency so he can shut the whole thing down on his very first day. 

The big news, however, was Thursday’s guilty plea and cooperation agreement by former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell in the Georgia RICO case just one day before she was scheduled to go on trial with co-defendant Kenneth Chesebro, another former Trump lawyer. Powell agreed to plead guilty on six misdemeanor counts relating to the Coffee County election machine tampering charges and to fully cooperate with the government as these cases go forward. 

Powell is the biggest fish to flip in any of these cases so far but it’s unclear whether or not she will be solely testifying as a witness in that Coffee County case or if she is expected to tell what she knows about Trump and Giuliani and the rest of his indicted henchmen’s activities leading up to the January 6 attempted coup. She certainly should have some stories to tell. And in fact, her involvement in that notorious White House meeting on December 18, 2022 when the discussions of seizing voting machines were brought up could even be related directly to Coffee County —- and Donald Trump was signing off on all kinds of nefarious deeds that night, most of which did not come to fruition, thank God. 

According to reporting by Rolling Stone on Thursday night, the Trump team was very surprised at this news. Powell is the most MAGA of all the lawyers for “team crazy” and she was the truest of believers. One source told the magazine, “[Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis and her team] managed to break the woman who was never supposed to be breakable.”

But perhaps she isn’t as deluded as they thought. There have been numerous leaks for months now that Powell was likely to be thrown to the wolves:

Before her plea agreement, some of Trump’s legal and political counselors had been working to cast Powell as a “fall guy” in the election-related cases against him and hoped to shovel the criminal exposure and blame for the failed attempt to overturn the election on to her and others, in the hopes of shielding former President Trump

They should be worried. As one former federal prosecutor told The Daily Beast, “One thing to note is just how favorable this plea deal is for her. She’s been permitted to plead guilty to misdemeanors… to get this good of a deal, she really has to know something.” 

Her former co-defendant whose trial begins today, Kenneth Chesebro, was reportedly offered a similar deal but refused. He’s had a couple of setbacks as well this week which may make him rethink his strategy. On Wednesday, Judge Scott McAfee, ruled that some of the emails Chesebro wanted to protect as attorney-client privilege are actually admissible under the crime-fraud exception, which means they were used in furtherance of a crime under the crime-fraud exception. And to make matters worse, The NY Times got a look at some of Chesebro’s emails and they are doozies. 

He wrote that the cases they were filing alleging fraud had little chance of success and admitted that the “relevant analysis is political.” He said that just getting it on file means that the Supreme Court will have ruled on it by January 6 or will have “appeared to dodge again” which would give Trump the argument that the courts “lacked the courage to fairly and timely consider the complaints, and justifying a political argument on Jan. 6 that none of the electoral votes from the states with regard to which the judicial process has failed should be counted.” Even more damning, he wrote “I think the odds of action before Jan. 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be ‘wild’ chaos on Jan. 6 unless they rule by then, either way.” 

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It’s pretty clear that he and his lawyer comrades were not just making legal arguments. They were engaged in plotting a coup which even included attempting to intimidate the US Supreme Court by suggesting that Trump’s “will be wild” invitation was going to cause violence. Perhaps Chesebro is prepared to take the fall for all that but you have to wonder why. It was clearly all of a piece with what Trump was tweeting and bleating through that whole period.

Starting today, Donald Trump is going to have two trials affecting his future taking place at the same time. The case against Kenneth Chesebro is all about him even if his own trial hasn’t started yet. The NY case is ongoing and it’s driving him crazy, mostly because he can’t stand having anyone question his net worth. And that’s just the beginning. The saga of Trump on trial has begun. 


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