Donald Trump’s lawyers are stabbing him in the back – what does that mean?

No matter how brilliant his poll numbers look, in the real world Donald Trump has at least one toe in prison. And nowhere is it more crowded than in Georgia. In less than a week, three of his ex-lawyers made a deal with the judiciary here.

The Republicans are really not making it easy for themselves. As if the intraparty carnage in the House of Representatives wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, conservatives must continue to pin all their hope on a 77-year-old man who is under civil and criminal investigation in several states.

Even his most hardened supporters know that Donald Trump’s vest is no longer anything but eggshell white – deep down, of course. Very few Trumpists admit that their savior may already have one toe in prison.

And yet it is so – at least as far as the indictment for alleged election fraud in the US state of Georgia is concerned. Because here, in Fulton County, the judiciary not only wants the ex-president, but also his former pack. Just on Tuesday, one of Trump’s former lawyers pleaded guilty in court to aiding and abetting false statements. She is already the fourth co-defendant to stab her former boss in the back. And that’s exactly what Trump is slowly coming to terms with.

Three of his ex-Trump lawyers prefer to save themselves

2024 is likely to be a year of challenges for Trump, both political and logistical. It is quite possible that he will have to plan his campaign route around court dates. Given the numerous legal hassles, here is a short worst-of:

In New York, the real estate mogul has already been found guilty of financial fraud by a judge and is threatened with a business ban and fines in the three-digit million range. Because of his allegedly criminal handling of state secrets, the public prosecutor’s office is charging the Republican in Florida with 40 counts, including conspiracy and obstruction of justice. And in Washington he will have to answer for the first time in court in March for whatever role he played in the storming of the Capitol in January 2021.

But nowhere is it likely to be as dangerous for Trump as in Georgia. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis accuses him of trying to manipulate the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. In the neck-and-neck race with Joe Biden, Trump asked Georgia’s election manager Brad Rafffensberger to “find” the 12,000 votes needed to win his state. And not only that: The then president allegedly instructed Raffensberger not to confirm his challenger’s legitimate victory. The lie about the stolen triumph is probably the most popular rallying cry among his fans.

The public prosecutor in Georgia sees things a little differently and in August charged Trump with 13 counts – each of which carries a sentence of five to 20 years in prison. The biggest problem from Trump’s point of view: In contrast to the criminal proceedings at the federal level under special prosecutor Jack Smith, Trump is not the only one in the sights of the judiciary in Georgia. In addition to the ex-president, 18 of his supporters are also accused – and at least some of them are apparently closer to themselves than to their ex-boss.

“In the rush to attempt to challenge the election in multiple states, including Georgia, I failed to do my due diligence,” lawyer Jenna Ellis said through tears in an Atlanta court on Tuesday. She had previously pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting false statements. “If I had known then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Trump in these post-election lawsuits,” she claimed. Judge Scott McAfee accepted the emotional guilty plea. In return, she will serve five years of probation, pay $5,000 in restitution, complete 100 hours of community service and apologize in writing to the people of Georgia. She also had to promise to testify in the upcoming trial.

Ellis is not the first renegade; more and more fingers are pointing at Trump. The 38-year-old is the fourth alleged accomplice to enter into a deal with the public prosecutor. Last week, prominent ex-lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, and the month before, lesser-known co-defendant Scott Hall, cooperated with the authorities.

The Rico Law – Prosecutor Willis’ most powerful weapon

Playing the defendants off against each other was part of Willis’ strategy from the start. Assuming that loyalty to Trump also has its limits, the prosecution put massive pressure on the comparatively less important names in the dock. “People at the lower levels tend to get a good deal to catch the big fish at the top,” Kay Levine, a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta, told the New York Times. Skeptics initially complained that such a collective action would take far too long. But the vehemence with which Willis acted surprised everyone.

Their most powerful tool is the so-called Rico Law. The regulation, which was actually designed for mafia organizations, makes it possible to combine the crimes of several defendants. The indictment describes Trump and his alleged accomplices as a criminal organization. Because Rico carries draconian punishments, the incentive to sing is great.

The question now is less whether anyone will unpack – but when. Experts believe that the first four deserters were just the beginning.

Georgia could also pose a threat to Trump in Washington

Now Trump doesn’t just have to worry about half-forgotten ex-advisors stabbing him in the back. Heavyweights such as New York’s former mayor Rudy Giuliani and his former chief of staff Mark Meadows are also on the indictment list. According to information from ABC News, the latter is now cooperating with federal investigators in connection with the storming of the Capitol in Washington. In Georgia, Meadows pleaded not guilty and has so far remained steadfast. If other supporting characters give in here, that could change. As soon as Willis lands a potential star witness like Meadows, Trump begins to sweat. Because apart from Giuliani and Powell, no one else should know better about Trump’s basement corpses.

Conversely, every stage victory for the prosecution in Georgia also benefits their colleagues in Washington. In principle, special investigator Jack Smith can also submit evidence and statements from the south to court in the capital. But he would have to summon the dissenters again to confirm their statements. In Washington, on the other hand, they could refuse to testify – even if they are no longer allowed to do so in Georgia.

And then there is the time factor. The trial in Washington, this most prestigious of all trials, is scheduled to start at the beginning of March – but by then none of the deserters in Georgia will have made an official statement against Trump.

The Georgia team could at least provide their Washington colleagues with unofficial material such as transcripts or video recordings of the witness statements. If Willis demands access to Smith’s information in return, things will be difficult. Because this material is largely under lock and key. “Honestly, if Jack Smith were standing next to me, I’m not sure I would know who he was,” Willis said shortly before the arraignment in August. According to the New York Times, collaboration between Willis and Smith is still limited to a minimum. In other words, it’s complicated. And the more complicated, the better for Trump.

Donald Trump’s popularity is not suffering

Trump’s defenders are currently mainly content with Trump’s basic rule: they defame every dissenter as a liar. That may be enough for the election campaign. That her Trump supporters might soon be a convicted criminal, but that doesn’t matter much to Trump supporters – on the contrary. The accusations, as dangerous as they can be for him, feed his myth of a left-wing political “witch hunt.” The tighter the legal situation becomes for Trump, the more credible his presentation as a civil resistance fighter. His poll numbers have been steadily increasing for months, and there have been no serious “followers” ​​for a long time.

Whether spitting poison and bile is also suitable for the courtroom is a completely different question. If the case comes to pass, Trump’s defense is likely to rely on disagreement among the jurors. If even one juror votes against conviction at the end of the trial, the ex-president would get away with it.

However, it is now clear that if Trump can put anything behind bars, it will probably be the people who were originally supposed to keep him out of there and in the White House.

Sources: “Roll Call”; “Politico”; “New York Times” (1); “New York Times” (2); “Semafor”; AP; DPA