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First Trump co-defendant pleads guilty in the Georgia election interference case

In this image made from video from Judge Scott McAfee's virtual Zoom hearing, Scott Graham Hall, left, stands with his attorney Jeff Weiner, right, in Superior Court of Fulton County before Judge McAfee on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Atlanta.
USA Today via AP, Pool
In this image made from video from Judge Scott McAfee's virtual Zoom hearing, Scott Graham Hall, left, stands with his attorney Jeff Weiner, right, in Superior Court of Fulton County before Judge McAfee on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — A bail bondsman charged alongside former President Donald Trump and 17 others in the Georgia election interference case pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges on Friday, becoming the first defendant to accept a plea deal with prosecutors.

As part of the deal, Scott Graham Hall will receive five years of probation and agreed to testify in further proceedings. He was also ordered to write a letter of apology to the citizens of Georgia and is forbidden from participating in polling activities.

Hall, 59, pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with performance of election duties, all misdemeanors, at a surprise court hearing. Prosecutors had accused him of participating in a breach of election equipment in rural Coffee County and initially charged him with racketeering and six conspiracy counts, all felonies.

He is one of the lower-level players in the indictment filed last month alleging a wide-ranging scheme to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's presidential victory and keep the Republican Trump in power. But the plea deal nonetheless is a major development in the case and marks a win for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis as she pursues a historic racketeering case against a former president.

Hall's attorney Jeff Weiner, who was in court with him Friday, said under the deal, his client's record will be wiped clean after he completes probation. The agreement allows Hall to avoid the stress of "living under a serious felony indictment" without knowing when he might go to trial, the attorney said in a phone interview.

"This way, it's over," Weiner said. "He can sleep well and get on with his life."

Weiner said Hall does not know much about the alleged conspiracy, and he would be surprised if prosecutors called him to testify.

Trump attorney Steve Sadow referred a request for comment on Hall's plea deal to Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung, who did not immediately respond.

Hall was described in the 98-page indictment as an associate of longtime Trump adviser David Bossie.

The security breach in the county about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta is among the first known attempts by Trump allies to access voting systems as they sought evidence to back up their unsubstantiated claims that such equipment had been used to manipulate the presidential vote. It was followed a short time later by breaches in three Michigan counties involving some of the same people and again in a western Colorado county that Trump won handily.

Authorities allege the breach began on Jan. 7, 2021, a day after the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, and continued over the span of a few weeks.

Authorities say Hall and co-defendants conspired to allow others to "unlawfully access secure voting equipment and voter data." This included ballot images, voting equipment software and personal vote information that was later made available to people in other states, according to the indictment.

Earlier Friday, prosecutor Nathan Wade revealed at a separate hearing that the district attorney's office planned to offer plea deals to lawyers Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro. Attorneys for the pair were present at the hearing and didn't indicate whether their clients would accept the offers.

Powell and Chesebro have requested speedy trials and are set to be tried together on Oct. 23, despite their lawyers arguing that they don't know each other and are not accused of having participated in the same acts.

Powell is accused of participating in a breach of election equipment in rural Coffee County. She's alleged to have hired and paid a computer forensics team that copied data and software from the election equipment without authorization.

Chesebro is accused of working on the coordination and execution of a plan to have 16 Georgia Republicans sign a certificate declaring falsely that Trump won and declaring themselves the state's "duly elected and qualified" electors.

Also on Friday, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones rejected requests by four other defendants — former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and three fake electors — to move the charges against them from state court to federal court. He had previously rejected a similar request from Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The practical effects of moving to federal court would have been a jury pool that includes a broader area and is potentially more conservative than Fulton County alone and a trial that would not be photographed or televised, as cameras are not allowed inside federal courtrooms. But it would not have opened the door for Trump, if he's reelected in 2024, or another president to issue pardons because any conviction would still happen under state law.

The indictment says Clark wrote a letter after the election that said the Justice Department had "identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia" and asked top department officials to sign it and send it to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and state legislative leaders. Clark knew at the time that that statement was false, the indictment alleges.

Clark's attorneys had argued that the actions described in the indictment related directly to his work as a federal official at the Justice Department. Clark at the time was the assistant attorney general overseeing the environment and natural resources division and was the acting assistant attorney general over the civil division.

But the judge said Clark provided no evidence to show that he was acting within the scope of his role in the Justice Department when he wrote a letter in December 2020 claiming the department was investigating voter irregularities. "To the contrary, the evidence before the Court indicates the opposite: Clark's role in the Civil Division did not include any role in the investigation or oversight of State elections," Jones wrote.

David Shafer, Shawn Still and Cathy Latham were among the 16 Republicans who falsely certified they were the state's "duly elected and qualified" electors.

Their lawyers argued in court that they were not fake electors but were instead a "contingent" slate in case the original election results were tossed out by a court. As such, the lawyers said, their status as electors means they were acting as federal officials and were performing the duties required by federal law.

Jones said Friday that all three had failed to establish they were federal officers or acted under the direction of a federal officer.

As for the claim that they were contingent electors, Jones wrote that even if that were true, "contingent presidential electors are a creation of Georgia state law, not federal law."

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The Associated Press