Heather Cox Richardson
Another of Trump’s lawyers has pleaded guilty to charges as part of a cooperation agreement with the Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney’s office. This morning, Jenna Ellis pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting false statements and writings as part of the plan to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. She is the fourth of the 19 people charged in the Georgia racketeering case to plead guilty.
In late September, bail bondsman Scott Hall, who helped to breach voting equipment and data in Coffee County, Georgia, pleaded guilty; lawyers Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro pleaded guilty last week.
Ellis opposed Trump’s 2016 nomination but supported him after his election in frequent television appearances as a “constitutional law attorney” although she had not worked on election law. After Trump saw her on the Fox News Channel, Ellis became a “senior legal advisor” to Trump’s reelection campaign.
After he lost, she was a very visible television spokesperson for the Big Lie that the election was stolen. On November 19, 2020, she joined Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee to insist that Democrats had rigged the voting in majority-Black cities and that communist forces in Venezuela had tampered with U.S. voting machines. She also peppered her social media feed with MAGA statements, mixing it up with anti-Trump figures, making her a more public figure than the other lawyers.
Nonetheless, Trump declined to cover her legal fees after her indictment as a co-defendant in the Georgia racketeering case, possibly because she had supported Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s presidential bid. While Ellis said she had stopped supporting the former president because of his “narcissistic” tendencies, she continued to echo Trump’s rhetoric. In September she raised more than $216,000 for her legal defense fund from crowdfunding, claiming she was fighting “a weaponized government and the criminalization of the practice of law.”
Today, in a court of law rather than in front of the television cameras, she sounded quite different.
“As an attorney who is also a Christian, I take my responsibilities as a lawyer very seriously, and I endeavor to be a person of sound moral and ethical character in all of my dealings,” a tearful Ellis told the court. “I relied on others, including lawyers with many more years experience than I, to provide me with true and reliable information.” (Ellis worked closely with older Trump lawyer Giuliani; she will be 39 on November 1.)
“If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges,” Ellis said in court. “I look back on this whole experience with deep remorse. For those failures of mine, your honor, I have taken responsibility already before the Colorado bar, who censured me, and I now take responsibility before this court and apologize to the people of Georgia.”
Ellis’s plea agreement spelled out the statements she made that were lies. As legal analyst Joyce White Vance explained in Civil Discourse, this means the court has identified the specific lies that made up the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and that Ellis will testify that they are lies. Those claims include the lie that there were 96,000 fraudulent mail-in ballots, that 2,506 felons voted illegally, that 66,248 underage people illegally registered to vote, that 2,423 unregistered people voted, that more than 10,000 dead people voted, that Fulton County election workers counted ballots with no oversight.
In the civil case in New York in which Trump, his older sons, two employees, and the Trump Organization are on trial for fraud, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen testified today that he and the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, would reverse engineer Trump’s financial statements to meet whatever number Trump wanted.
His testimony suggested that the alleged massive fortune on which Trump based his identity, as well as his presidential bid, was an illusion.
In a series of motions filed overnight, Trump’s defense team appears to be throwing anything it can at the wall to challenge the election conspiracy case in Washington, D.C.
But as Trump’s legal peril escalates, Republicans in the House of Representatives continue to reject any House speaker who does not embrace Trump. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) today said, “We need a speaker of the House that reflects the values and the views of Republican voters across the country, and they support President Trump and they support his agenda.” Representative Troy Nehls (R-TX) suggested nominating Trump himself for the job.
CNN’s Jake Tapper has had enough. “I’m covering life and death issues, serious tragedies, serious momentous occurrences here in Israel and of course in Gaza,” he said today. But, he said, “We have to interrupt this for one moment to cover the complete and utter clown car that is the House Republicans’ Speaker’s race.”
House Republicans today selected Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN) as their choice for the post, only to have him drop out of the race after Trump, apparently angry that Emmer had dodged a question about whether he supported Trump’s nomination for president, turned on him.
Trump went on social media to call Emmer, whose work in Congress has earned him a 79% lifetime approval rating from the right-wing Heritage Action for America, a “Globalist RINO,” meaning “Republican In Name Only.” Trump warned that Emmer “never respected the Power of a Trump Endorsement, or the breadth and scope of MAGA…. I believe he has now learned his lesson, because he is saying that he is Pro-Trump all the way, but who can ever be sure? Has he only changed because that’s what it takes to win?”
Trump ally Ohio Representative Jim Jordan’s failure to win the speakership even after threatening his colleagues showed that Trump cannot put his chosen candidate into the chair, but Emmer’s failure to win the speakership suggests Trump’s opposition can keep a candidate out of it.
Just hours after Emmer dropped out, the House Republican conference threw up a fourth candidate for speaker: Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana. Johnson is a self-described Christian and staunch Trump ally. He defended the former president during both of his impeachment trials and fought for Texas v. Pennsylvania, the key lawsuit contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election (the Supreme Court decided that Texas did not have standing to sue). He voted against certifying the 2020 election results.
Johnson won the conference’s nomination with 128 votes to 29 votes for Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, who only entered Congress in 2021. In an interesting sign that Republicans might be reconsidering their rejection of former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) three weeks ago, 43 Republicans voted for him even though he was not standing for the position. Johnson told reporters he expects a floor vote at noon tomorrow.
House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has offered a bipartisan deal in which Democrats would help Republicans elect a speaker. In exchange for their help, Democrats have said they want a candidate who is not an election denier and who agrees to hold up-or-down votes for bills that have broad support across the parties. Such a deal would mean some security for future elections. It would also mean that a measure funding Ukraine, which is popular across Congress but which the extremists oppose, would get a hearing.
So would funding the government.