ATLANTA -- Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro pleaded guilty to a felony Friday just as jury selection was getting underway in his trial on charges accusing him of participating in efforts to overturn Donald Trump's loss in the 2020 election in Georgia.
Chesebro, who was charged alongside Trump and 17 others with violating the state's anti-racketeering law, pleaded guilty to one felony charge of conspiracy to commit filing false documents in a last-minute deal, with prosecutors agreeing to dismiss the other charges. His plea came a day after fellow attorney Sidney Powell, who had been scheduled to go to trial alongside him, entered her own guilty plea to six misdemeanor counts.
Chesebro accepted a sentence of three to five years of probation, a $1,000 fine, $5,000 in restitution to the state of Georgia, an apology letter, 100 hours of community service and a promise to testify truthfully against any other co-defendants in the case, should they go to trial.
The guilty pleas -- along with the third of a bail bondsman last month -- are major victories for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. They allow her to avoid a lengthy trial of just two defendants -- which would have given those remaining a peek at her trial strategy -- and to whittle down an unwieldy pool of defendants.
Unlike Powell, who was involved in strategy talks with the former president after the election, the indictment does not indicate direct contact between Chesebro and Trump. This could potentially limit any information he could offer prosecutors that would be helpful to them in their case against Trump.
Chesebro's guilty plea came after a morning of courtroom intrigue. He was seen entering the courthouse early Friday but did not appear along with Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, prosecutors and defense attorneys as the judge spoke about the case to 450 potential jurors who had been summoned to fill out a questionnaire.
Around noon, prosecutors entered McAfee's courtroom and were later joined by Chesebro and his legal team. Chesebro, who had originally pleaded innocent, was smiling and appeared in good spirits. He was seen writing what his lawyer, Scott Grubman, later identified as the apology letter required as part of his plea agreement.
Chesebro did not plead guilty to the charge that all 19 defendants in the case initially faced -- participating in a racketeering enterprise. He alluded to his unwillingness to admit guilt to some of the allegations in an exchange with the judge.
"Are you pleading guilty today because you believe there is a factual basis for moving forward with this charge?" McAfee asked, to which Chesebro pointedly replied: "Yes, this charge."
After Chesebro pleaded guilty, his lawyer asked McAfee if his client's probation case could be transferred to Puerto Rico, his current home. McAfee said that could "complicate" the terms of his probation, and Chesebro agreed to stay in Atlanta for a few days to work out the details.
"Was he planning to leave today?" McAfee asked Grubman.
"He was planning to stay here for three to six months," Grubman replied, prompting laughter at the reference to the now-averted trial that was scheduled to begin early next month.
Grubman said it is entirely up to prosecutors whether his client will be called to testify against others in the case, but he would be surprised if it happens. Asked whether Trump should be worried about any testimony Chesebro might offer, Grubman said, "I don't think so."
Chesebro was charged in what prosecutors called a wide-ranging scheme to keep the Republican president in power after he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden. The indictment alleges that Chesebro coordinated and executed a plan to have 16 Georgia Republicans sign a certificate declaring falsely that Trump won the state and declaring themselves the state's "duly elected and qualified" electors.
Grubman said after the plea hearing that his client has been "inaccurately described as the architect of some plan to overturn democracy." He said the plea deal contradicts that.
"I think this plea deal absolutely shows and proves that he was not and never was the architect of any sort of fake-elector plan or anything like that," Grubman told reporters.
For prosecutors, the plea deal assures that Chesebro publicly accepts responsibility for his conduct in the case and removes the uncertainty of a trial by a jury of his peers. It also compels him to testify in future trials in the case. Based on court filings by prosecutors, that could include communications he had with Trump's campaign lawyers and close associates including co-defendant Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and a Trump attorney.
Trump attorney Steve Sadow said it appears as if Chesebro's guilty plea "was the result of pressure by Fani Willis and her team and the prosecution's looming threat of prison time."
He also reiterated what he said after Powell's guilty plea, which similarly included a commitment to testify in future trials: "Once again, I fully expect that truthful testimony would be favorable to my defense strategy."
Chesebro was also an unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator in an indictment filed against Trump by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith. The former president was charged in that case with trying to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election and block the peaceful transfer of power.
The federal indictment alleges that "co-conspirator 5" -- identified as Chesebro by The Associated Press through court and congressional records and other means -- "assisted in devising and attempting to implement a plan to submit fraudulent slates of presidential electors to obstruct the certification proceeding."
Grubman said this deal means his client will get to return to his family and his life without spending a day behind bars. He said he believes that getting prosecutors to agree on the record that this was not a crime of "moral turpitude" should allow Chesebro to continue practicing law.
Prosecutors allege that Chesebro unlawfully conspired with Trump and lawyers associated with his campaign to have the group of Georgia Republicans sign the false-elector certificate and to submit it to various federal authorities. He also communicated with Trump campaign lawyers and Republican leaders in other swing states won by Biden to get those states to submit false slates of electors as well, prosecutors alleged.
Through his attorneys, Chesebro had claimed he was merely offering legal opinions to his client, the Trump campaign, and had unsuccessfully sought to block memos and other emails he sent to Republicans across the country and others working on the Trump campaign from being used at trial.
Chesebro is a Harvard Law School graduate whose past work includes assisting then-Vice President Al Gore's legal team during the 2000 recount of Florida's presidential votes.
Information for this article was contributed by Kate Brumback of The Associated Press and by Holly Bailey and Amy Gardner of The Washington Post.