Judge in Trump Georgia election case 'very skeptical' of trying all defendants together

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower, in New York

By Jack Queen

(Reuters) - A Georgia judge on Wednesday said he was “very skeptical” that Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants could stand trial together as soon as next month in a sprawling criminal case accusing them of conspiring to reverse the former U.S. president’s 2020 election loss.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee gave prosecutors 10 days to explain how they “could possibly keep these defendants together” with a mountain of outstanding legal questions and a looming speedy trial deadline next month for defendants who have demanded one.

The remarks which came during a hearing in Atlanta underscore the challenge of shepherding so many people to trial as soon as Oct. 23, as prosecutors say they intend to do over the objections of some defendants.

The hearing concerned bids by onetime Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro to sever their cases from the rest and have individual trials as soon as possible.

"There can’t be a trial of 19 people," said Scott Grubman, a lawyer for Chesebro.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, was charged in August in an indictment alleging he and his co-defendants conspired to pressure Georgia election officials to reverse his loss to Democratic President Joe Biden.

Trump and the other defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said on Wednesday they intend to call more than 150 witnesses over at least four months, not including jury selection.

McAfee ruled Powell and Chesebro could be tried separately from the other defendants but not from each other. He has yet to rule on whether the remaining 17 defendants will join them.

Several defendants have filed similar motions to sever, and some are seeking to move their cases from state to federal court. Others have said they would not be ready for trial by October.

The complexity stems in part from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ decision to bring racketeering charges, which allow prosecutors to corral large groups of loosely connected defendants bound only by a common purpose.

Powell and Chesebro, for instance, have never met. Their lawyers argued Wednesday that it would be unfair to lump them together because they are accused of unrelated conduct.

Prosecutors countered that all of the defendants are implicated in the same scheme to overturn Georgia’s election results.

Trump is set to face three other criminal trials next year, further complicating the schedule in the Georgia case.

He is under indictment in Florida for his handling of classified documents upon leaving office, in Washington for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and in New York City over a hush money payment he paid to a porn star.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty in all three cases, which he has said are part of a plot to prevent him from retaking the White House in the November 2024 election.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)