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As ex-Trump associates plead guilty, has his presidential bid been affected?

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Four co-defendants in the election interference case against Donald Trump in Georgia have now pleaded guilty to some charges in exchange for leniency. They've also agreed to cooperate with Fulton County prosecutors in their criminal racketeering case against Trump and more than a dozen other defendants. Now, yesterday, former Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis admitted to a felony charge of aiding and abetting false statements in Trump's bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

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JENNA ELLIS: If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges. I look back on this whole experience with deep remorse.

MARTÍNEZ: We turn now to former federal prosecutor Harry Sandick to talk more about the implications of these plea deals. All right. So, Ellis, there, two other lawyers, Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and a bail bondsman, Scott Hall, took plea deals. Harry, how do these agreements help the prosecution?

HARRY SANDICK: Sure. These are significant benefits to the prosecution. First of all, they indicted a lot of people together. These get a few of the defendants out of the case. Secondly, these are lawyers who were advising former President Trump on the precise issues that are the subject of the indictment, and they're now admitting that they broke the law when they did that. They've made themselves available to testify against President Trump, Rudy Giuliani and the other defendants, if that's something that the prosecutors think would be useful. And they've done it in a public way, with apologies and public statements making clear to the entire world that they regret what they did. They know that what they were doing was wrong.

For these defendants, they also took, I think, a very favorable deal. They were facing, on the one hand, strong evidence and potentially years in jail and multiple felony counts, including racketeering and, on the other hand, a plea resolution that allows them to avoid jail. So this is a very favorable deal for them as well.

MARTÍNEZ: How much more weight does it have when a lawyer accepts a plea deal? Because they should be completely aware of what's at stake here.

SANDICK: I think that's right. And, you know, these were people who were involved in some sense in crafting the strategy. You heard Ellis talking about working with other lawyers, which I think many people presume includes, Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's, you know, top lawyer during this time period. And it's a very sad thing as a lawyer to see other lawyers, you know, having engaged in criminal activity. And it's fitting and appropriate that they acknowledge it. Under the Georgia law, if they comply with the rules of their probation and complete their community service, cooperate with the prosecutors, I believe their convictions, in fact, will be erased at the end of their case. So it's a very good deal for them. And it's a very important deal for the prosecutors.

MARTÍNEZ: So a good deal all around. But what happens if, say, one or more of these defendants all of a sudden changes her mind?

SANDICK: So in general, you have a very hard time getting back your guilty plea. It's a solemn thing to plead guilty to a crime. You do it under oath. In addition, the district attorney has taken videotaped sworn proffers, statements from the defendants. So if they do decide to go back and say, oh, no, actually, my bad; none of that happened; I think they can be pretty easily prosecuted for making false statements. And at that point, there would be no possibility of leniency.

MARTÍNEZ: Will they be able to practice law again?

SANDICK: So it depends on the rules of the states in which they practice. To the extent that their convictions are eventually vacated, which can happen under the relevant Georgia sort of a first-time offender statute, that (inaudible) their case. To the extent that they've accepted responsibility and pled guilty rather than putting the government to its proof, that will help their case. And the prosecutors also stipulated that these were not crimes of moral turpitude, which is a term of art. If you commit that type of crime, it's much easier to be suspended and disbarred.

MARTÍNEZ: That's former federal prosecutor Harry Sandick in New York. Harry, thanks.

SANDICK: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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