The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump co-defendant Jenna Ellis pleads guilty in Georgia election case

Ellis, a onetime Fox News regular who was a legal adviser to the Trump campaign, becomes the second co-defendant with known direct links to Trump to plead guilty in the case

Jenna Ellis reads a statement in court in Atlanta on Tuesday after pleading guilty to a felony count of aiding and abetting false statements and writings. Ellis, a lawyer and prominent conservative media figure, reached a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge related to efforts to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia. (John Bazemore/Pool/Reuters)
6 min

ATLANTA — Jenna Ellis, a former lawyer for Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign, pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally conspiring to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia, making her the third attorney associated with the former president to accept a plea deal in the sweeping criminal racketeering case.

Ellis, who had been facing two charges including violating Georgia’s anti-racketeering act, pleaded guilty in court Tuesday morning to a single felony count of aiding and abetting false statements and writings. The deal allows her to avoid jail time in exchange for providing evidence that could implicate other defendants and agreeing to testify in any future trials. Ellis worked closely with personal Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, another defendant in the case, who faces 13 charges.

On Oct. 24 former Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis pleaded guilty to illegally conspiring to overturn the former president’s 2020 election loss in Georgia. (Video: Fulton County Superior Court)

The plea marks the first time a senior Trump aide has admitted to — and has been held criminally accountable for — making false statements that the 2020 presidential election was tainted by widespread fraud. In a hearing Tuesday morning, Ellis tearfully admitted that she failed to ensure the accuracy of those statements, felt “deep remorse” and no longer believed the false claims.

“If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges,” Ellis said.

Appearing before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee on Tuesday, Ellis and her attorneys, Franklin Hogue and Laura Hogue, listened as a prosecutor read out details of an amended indictment. According to the agreement, Ellis agreed to complete three to five years of probation and 100 hours of community service, and to pay $5,000 in restitution to the Georgia secretary of state. She also agreed to write a letter of apology to the state of Georgia.

Subscribe to The Trump Trials, our weekly email newsletter on Donald Trump's four criminal cases

Ellis is the fourth Trump co-defendant to plead guilty in the case, which was brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis. Atlanta bail bondsman Scott Hall, accused of playing a wide-ranging role in a conspiracy to reverse Trump’s loss in Georgia, pleaded guilty Sept. 29 in a cooperation deal with prosecutors. Former pro-Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro each pleaded guilty last week on the eve of their scheduled joint trial in the case.

Play now
NaN min
Follow on

Podcast episode

As part of their plea deals, Hall, Powell and Chesebro each recorded a lengthy video answering prosecutors’ questions about their roles and the roles of others in the alleged election interference conspiracy.

Ellis is the second co-defendant with known direct links to Trump to plead guilty in the case; Powell was the first. A onetime Fox News regular who was hired in late 2019 as a legal adviser to the Trump campaign, Ellis was part of the post-2020 election legal team, appearing alongside Giuliani and Powell at news conferences, where she echoed false claims of election fraud.

A key question is how her plea deal will affect the fortunes of some of her co-defendants. She worked closely with Giuliani, traveling to battleground states including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where prosecutors say she spoke to lawmakers and urged them to reject the popular-vote results in their states. The Georgia indictment also pointed to memos she wrote for Trump outlining how Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the election results.

Ellis’s apology to McAfee in court Tuesday seemed to implicate Giuliani.

“I relied on others, including lawyers with many more years of experience than I, to provide me with true and reliable information, especially since my role involved speaking to the media and to legislators in various states,” she said. “What I did not do but should have done, Your Honor, was to make sure that the facts the other lawyers alleged to be true were in fact true.”

Less clear is how Ellis’s plea could affect Trump. While she admitted that her claims about election fraud had been wrong, she did not say she knew them to be wrong at the time — a fact that Trump’s attorneys could seize upon to bolster his defense because it would allow him to say he was relying on the advice of his attorneys.

Ellis’s plea deal represented a dramatic about-face from public statements she made as recently as August, when she decried the Georgia charges against her and her 18 co-defendants as a “political prosecution.” In February, Ellis hosted Trump on her syndicated program, “The Jenna Ellis Show,” during which she asked him to address “election integrity.”

“That is the number one question that I still get from very concerned citizens out there saying, ‘We want Donald Trump back in office,’” she said. “‘We want all of this, but how are we going to get there with such a corrupted system?’”

A month later, Ellis was admonished by a Colorado judge for false statements she had made about the 2020 election. As part of that proceeding, Ellis admitted that several statements she had made were false. She said she had acted with “a reckless state of mind” and told the court she had behaved with “selfish” motives. Her actions, she acknowledged, had “undermined the American public’s confidence in the presidential election.”

It is not known what Ellis told prosecutors or what documents she might share in the case. Rumors had swirled for weeks that Ellis might be among those seeking a plea deal — in part because of her public complaints that Trump was unwilling to pay her mounting legal bills.

Ellis, who hosts a podcast for American Family Radio, publicly declared in September that she was unlikely to support Trump’s bid for the 2024 nomination. “I simply can’t support him for elected office again,” she said on her podcast. “Why I have chosen to distance is because of that frankly malignant narcissistic tendency to simply say that he’s never done anything wrong.”

Steve Sadow, lead counsel for Trump in the Georgia case, pointed to the prosecution’s willingness to dismiss Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act charges, commonly known as RICO, as evidence of what he indicated was Willis’s true strategy.

“For the fourth time, Fani Willis and her prosecution team have dismissed the RICO charge in return for a plea to probation,” he said. “What that shows is this so-called RICO case is nothing more than a bargaining chip for DA Willis.”

A Willis spokesman declined to comment.

Now that four defendants have pleaded guilty, others could follow. Prosecutors have had the upper hand in negotiations so far because of defendants’ fear of conviction — to the point where two of them agreed to plead to felonies; three are lawyers whose law licenses could be in jeopardy.

But that does not necessarily mean their testimony implicates others, said Melissa Redmon, a former Fulton County deputy district attorney who teaches law at the University of Georgia.

“We don’t know how incriminating their statements are for the remaining defendants,” Redmon said. “They could very well be just taking responsibility for their own actions, but not necessarily being as detrimental to the remaining defendants as what you might think.”

More on the Trump Georgia case

The latest: Four of Trump’s co-defendants have pleaded guilty in the Georgia election case. Trump previously entered a plea of not guilty. The Washington Post published details of recorded statements given to prosecutors by the co-defendants who accepted plea deals in the case, offering previously undisclosed information about the effort by Trump and his allies to reverse his defeat.

The charges: Trump was charged with 13 counts, including violating the state’s racketeering act. Read the full text of the Georgia indictment. Here’s a breakdown of the charges against Trump and a list of everyone else who was charged in the Georgia case. Trump now faces 91 total charges in four criminal cases.

The case: Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) has been investigating whether Trump and his associates broke the law when they sought to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia. Here’s what happens next in the Georgia case.

Historic mug shot: Trump surrendered at the Fulton County Jail on charges that he illegally conspired to overturn his 2020 election loss. Authorities released his booking record — including his height and weight — and mug shot.