The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ex-Trump allies detail efforts to overturn election in Georgia plea videos

From left to right: Former Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, Georgia bail bondsman Scott Hall and former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell. (Video: The Washington Post)
23 min

A former attorney for Donald Trump has told Georgia prosecutors that a top presidential aide said to her in December 2020 that “the boss” did not plan to leave the White House “under any circumstances,” according to a video recording obtained by The Washington Post.

Jenna Ellis, a onetime Trump lawyer who pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for her testimony in the Fulton County, Ga., case, told prosecutors in the video that Dan Scavino, Trump’s deputy chief of staff at the time, was unfazed by her view that the president was running out of options to challenge Joe Biden’s victory.

Former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis recounted an exchange with then-White House aide Dan Scavino regarding the president’s intent not to leave office. (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

“And he said to me, you know, in a kind of excited tone, ‘Well, we don’t care, and we’re not going to leave,’” Ellis said in the video.

The description comes from recordings obtained by The Post of the statements of the four defendants who have accepted plea deals in the Georgia case — recordings that they were required to make under the terms of their deals and that were intended to lay out what they know that could be used against the other defendants in the case.

Although some of the recordings were garbled, the portions of the four statements that The Post was able to review — from Ellis, lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, and Georgia bail bondsman Scott Hall — offered many previously undisclosed details about the effort by Trump and his allies to reverse his defeat.

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Chesebro disclosed in his recorded statement that at a previously unreported White House meeting, he briefed Trump on election challenges in Arizona and summarized a memo in which he offered advice on assembling alternate slates of electors in key battlegrounds to cast ballots for Trump despite Biden’s victories in those states.

Chesebro’s recollection could provide evidence that Trump was aware of the elector plan.

Prosecutors repeatedly pressed Powell on why Trump was leaning on her for legal advice, ignoring the counsel of White House attorneys and others who told him that he had lost the election.

Asked why she thought Trump did that, Powell replied, “Because we were the only ones willing to support his effort to sustain the White House. I mean, everybody else was telling him to pack up and go.”

The sweeping Fulton indictment, unsealed in August, accuses Trump and 18 other defendants — including Rudy Giuliani, his former personal attorney; Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff; former Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark; and former Georgia GOP chairman David Shafer — of a wide-ranging conspiracy to steal the 2020 election.

The charges fall into several buckets of alleged criminal behavior: the meeting of the Trump slate of presidential electors in Atlanta; Trump’s pressure campaign seeking help from multiple Georgia state officials in reversing his defeat; a breach of election equipment in rural Coffee County, Ga., in a hunt for evidence of fraud; and harassment of two local election workers in Fulton County who were falsely accused of counting fraudulent ballots on election night. The case is separate from the federal election interference investigation by special counsel Jack Smith, in which only Trump has been charged so far.

Some of the details from the videos were first reported Monday by ABC News.

An attorney for Scavino did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis declined to comment.

Former Trump attorney Sidney Powell told prosecutors that former president Donald Trump's instinct was that he won the 2020 election following his defeat. (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

The audible portions of the Fulton recordings reviewed by The Post do not appear to directly implicate Trump. At one point in Powell’s interview, she said Trump really believed he had won — a statement that could help his defense. But Powell also said Giuliani spoke of a plan to gain access to voting equipment at a Dec. 18, 2020, meeting with Trump and others in the Oval Office. And Hall appeared to implicate another defendant, lawyer Robert Cheeley, describing him as part of the “brain trust” planning the Coffee County scheme. Giuliani spokesman Ted Goodman, asked to comment on the recordings, called the Fulton investigation a “farce” that should be dismissed immediately. A lawyer for Cheeley declined to comment.

Both revelations suggested that prosecutors are following a playbook that Willis has become known for — a sweeping indictment using Georgia’s expansive anti-racketeering statute with multiple defendants and then plea deals that lead to incriminating evidence that can be used against other defendants. In past RICO cases, Willis has indicted dozens of defendants, only to accept round after round of plea deals that have bolstered her case against the remaining defendants.

Whether the Scavino story about not leaving the White House will be admissible in court is likely to become a topic of debate between Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors, given that it could be deemed hearsay.

Former Trump attorney Sidney Powell described to prosecutors a tense exchange in Dec. 2020 between her and Rudy Giuliani. (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

Steve Sadow, Trump’s lead attorney in the Fulton County case, said any “purported” private conversation “is absolutely meaningless.”

“The only salient and telling fact is that President Trump left the White House on January 20, 2021, and returned to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida,” Sadow said. “If this is the nonsense line of inquiry being pursued and this is the type of bogus, ridiculous ‘evidence’ DA Willis intends to rely upon, it is one more reason that this political travesty of a case must be dismissed.”

Other new details revealed in the recordings include:

  • Powell said that if Trump had appointed her special counsel to investigate election irregularities, as she had urged him to do in that Dec. 18 Oval Office meeting, she would have sought to seize election equipment and would have considered using the military to do so.
  • Chesebro also disclosed for the first time that he played a role transporting documents signed by Wisconsin Trump electors to Capitol Hill as part of a Trump campaign plan to present Vice President Mike Pence with competing slates of electors.
  • Powell said she still believes “machine fraud” tainted the 2020 presidential election. “I hate to use one of Rudy’s phrases, but it doesn’t pass the prosecutor smell test,” she said.
  • Powell described a Dec. 21, 2020, meeting at the White House that included Giuliani and Meadows during which Giuliani called her “every name in the book,” including “b----.”
  • Hall claimed that his role in the alleged breach of election equipment in rural Coffee County was simply that of a “political tourist” and that he spent $10,000 of his own money to fly there on Jan. 7, 2021, purely “for s---s and giggles.” But he also complained that no one reimbursed him for the charter flight, explaining, “Pardon my French, but I’ve been f---ed through this whole thing.”
  • Hall also revealed a previously undisclosed role in alleged harassment of Ruby Freeman, a Fulton County election worker who has publicly described having to go into hiding after Giuliani and others falsely accused her of counting phony ballots. Hall said Cheeley approached him to help locate Freeman, and he surmised that he was tapped because of his skills tracking people down as a bail bondsman.
  • Though she pleaded guilty in the case, Powell continued to maintain her lack of involvement in the Coffee County incident. She said she opposed the publication of the computer data because she understood the sensitivity of the material.

The statements appear to have been recorded in a courthouse conference room, with the defendants seated at the head of a table and their attorneys and the prosecution gathered around them. In all four cases, the defendants must continue cooperating with prosecutors. In her interview, Powell agreed to turn over documents, including emails, and Chesebro agreed to provide his “red-line” edits of a strategy memo about contesting the election, along with other documents.

Fulton County defendant Scott Hall told prosecutors he chartered a private plane to fly to rural Georgia to examine allegedly faulty voting machines. (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

Powell and Ellis recorded their statements Oct. 18 and Oct. 23, respectively — in both cases the day before they each pleaded guilty. Chesebro recorded his on Oct. 20, the day he pleaded guilty — and also the day jury selection began in his case. Hall recorded his statement Sept. 29, the day he became the first defendant to plead guilty in the Georgia case.

The four defendants pleaded guilty to a variety of lesser charges. Ellis pleaded to felony charge of aiding and abetting false statements and writings. Chesebro pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to file false documents. Powell and Hall pleaded guilty to six misdemeanors and five misdemeanors, respectively, involving intentional interference with the performance of election duties. All received sentences of probation and fines and were ordered to write letters of apology and testify truthfully in future proceedings.

Chesebro: ‘A really great brainstorm’

In his nearly three-hour interview with Fulton County prosecutors, Chesebro described a Dec. 16, 2020, Oval Office meeting he attended with several attorneys involved in the effort to challenge Trump’s loss in Wisconsin who were in town for a congressional hearing and went to the White House for a photo op with the president.

Chesebro recalled other Trump advisers being in the room, including Scavino and Meadows.

“Near the end of the photo op, I had a back and forth with President Trump when the matter of Arizona came up,” Chesebro recalled to prosecutors. “I briefed him on what my understanding was of what was happening in Arizona.”

Chesebro said he “piped up” because he had the “most relevant information” given that he had been in touch with an attorney leading the campaign’s legal challenges in Arizona.

Chesebro told prosecutors that Trump asked “four or five questions” and that he summarized for Trump his Nov. 18, 2020, memo to the campaign in which he called Jan. 6, 2021, “the real deadline” for settling the state’s electoral votes — though it was unclear whether Trump reacted to his analysis.

Prosecutors repeatedly pressed Chesebro on his contacts with the campaign, including Giuliani and John Eastman, the conservative law professor who wrote memos suggesting Pence could unilaterally reject slates of certified state electors as part of an effort to keep Trump in power.

Chesebro claimed that he talked to Giuliani just two or three times and that most of the memos and legal advice he was offering were sent to the campaign through Boris Epshteyn, an attorney and longtime Trump adviser. Chesebro repeatedly distanced himself from Eastman, an acquaintance who was also presenting legal avenues for Trump to remain in the White House in the chaotic weeks after the 2020 election.

Chesebro told prosecutors that he began communicating directly with Eastman in late December 2020 and helped edit a Dec. 23, 2020, memo in which Eastman laid out the various scenarios and described Pence as the “ultimate arbiter” of the election outcome.

Chesebro downplayed his role in the crafting of the “substance” of Eastman’s memo, telling prosecutors that he had “offered to help” edit.

“I was happy to express his ideas more clearly,” Chesebro said.

Chesebro repeatedly said he didn’t recall his reaction to Eastman’s legal theories at the time. But one prosecutor pointed to a Dec. 23, 2020, email sent by Eastman to Epshteyn and Chesebro with the draft that Chesebro had edited.

“Really awesome,” Chesebro wrote.

Asked why he replied that way, Chesebro insisted it wasn’t an endorsement of Eastman’s ideas.

“It was a really great brainstorm document. I didn’t mean it as I agreed,” Chesebro said.

At one point, a prosecutor asked Chesebro who he thought was “quarterbacking” the Trump campaign’s legal efforts — Giuliani, Eastman or Epshteyn. Chesebro replied that it appeared to be Epshteyn. Epshteyn declined to comment.

In another new revelation, Chesebro also disclosed for the first time that he played a role in transporting documents signed by Wisconsin Trump electors to Capitol Hill.

Chesebro told prosecutors that he had flown to Washington around Jan. 2 to be present for any legal meetings involving the Trump campaign’s Jan. 6 strategy — though he claimed he was ultimately not invited to participate in any.

The former Trump lawyer said he booked three rooms at what was then the Trump International Hotel and offered one to James Troupis, the former Wisconsin judge who was leading the Trump campaign’s legal efforts to challenge the Wisconsin results.

Chesebro told prosecutors that when Troupis realized he was in Washington he asked him to meet a courier who was flying to D.C. with documents related to the Wisconsin electors.

The plan, Chesebro said, was to get them to the staff of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who would then hand them to Pence during the joint session of Congress for the counting of electoral college votes Jan. 6.

Chesebro told prosecutors he was ultimately not invited to any meetings at the White House or at the Willard Hotel, where Giuliani and other Trump allies had set up a war room. He told prosecutors that he wandered on Jan. 6 from the Trump hotel to the Ellipse, where he caught the “last half” of Trump’s speech to supporters.

He told prosecutors that he did not hear Giuliani or Eastman speak to the crowd — and was not aware they would be making remarks. Chesebro claimed that after hearing part of Trump’s speech, he joined the throngs of Trump supporters as they marched toward the U.S. Capitol building. The former Trump attorney said he walked near the building at the same time as right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — a moment captured on videos first reported by CNN.

The former Trump campaign attorney insisted that he did not know Jones and had not previously spoken to him and that their simultaneous arrival was mere coincidence.

“I randomly arrived at the same time he did,” Chesebro said.

Chesebro repeatedly said he did not know what was happening on Capitol Hill, including that Trump supporters had violently breached the Capitol building. He said he saw nobody entering the building and saw no violence. He told prosecutors that he “wandered” around for “an hour, an hour and a half,” before going back to the Trump hotel, where he saw footage of the assault airing on a television near the bar and realized the full extent of the attack.

Asked for his reaction, Chesebro replied, “It was the worst possible thing that could happen.”

Chesebro claimed that he did not communicate with any Trump allies that day, including Eastman, and that he was unaware that Eastman was emailing a Pence aide.

That evening, after the building was cleared and lawmakers returned for the joint session, prosecutors said, Eastman emailed Pence aide Greg Jacob claiming that Pence had violated the Electoral Count Act and should not certify the election. Chesebro told prosecutors that he “did not understand” why Eastman was saying that and suggested he disagreed.

“I just didn’t understand the logic of what he was saying,” Chesebro said.

Eastman’s lawyer, Charles Burnham, said, “Professor Eastman has no problem with Greg Jacob, Ken Chesebro or anyone else disagreeing with his arguments. The whole point of this case is that legal disagreements on unsettled questions of constitutional law should not be criminalized.”

Ellis: ‘We don’t care’

Ellis’s recorded statement is not like the others.

While the interviews with Chesebro and Powell lasted nearly three hours each, and Hall’s statement was more than two hours, Ellis’s interview was roughly half an hour and less free-flowing.

Adam Ney, an assistant Fulton County district attorney, indicated at the top of the meeting that prosecutors were being “very meticulous” about not straying into material that could violate attorney-client privilege. Ellis, a former Trump campaign attorney, explains that she was also empowered as a personal attorney for the former president until she resigned both roles in January 2021.

Describing the December 2020 encounter with Scavino, she said they were standing in a hallway near the Blue Room of the White House awaiting Trump’s arrival. She recalled apologizing to Scavino that Trump’s legal team had so far been unsuccessful in overturning his 2020 election loss.

“I said something to him, like, ‘I'm sorry that we haven't been able to do more,’ and I emphasized to him I thought that the claims and the ability to challenge the election results was essentially over because of the dismissal of the Texas versus Pennsylvania case from the United States Supreme Court,” Ellis recounted to prosecutors.

When Scavino said Trump planned to stay in the White House anyway, she said, “Well, it doesn’t quite work that way, you realize,” according to her statement to prosecutors.

“We don’t care,” Scavino replied, she said.

Pressed on what she believed Scavino meant when he said “we,” Ellis said she believed he was referring to Trump and his close aides.

“We, I believed to mean President Trump, as the boss, and anyone who — including Mr. Scavino — who would have aided him in that effort, which my understanding at the time would have been some of his staff including Mr. Meadows,” Ellis said.

The former Trump lawyer tried to share two other pieces of information, according to a video recording, but she was cut off twice by prosecutors, who appeared to be concerned about issues of attorney-client privilege.

Ellis told prosecutors about Preston Haliburton, an Atlanta-area attorney involved in the Trump campaign’s legal challenges in Georgia, and offered a detail not previously known publicly. She alleged that Haliburton obtained security footage from a ballot tabulation center at State Farm Arena in Atlanta and that he did so on behalf of Ray Smith, a GOP lawyer also indicted in the Fulton case.

That video footage featured Freeman, the Fulton election worker, along with her daughter, Shaye Moss. Both became the subject of harassment and death threats after Giuliani showed a clip of the video during a legislative hearing and falsely claimed that it showed election workers changing the outcome of the election.

Haliburton, who was not charged, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Smith.

While Ellis was recounting the story of Haliburton, one of the prosecutors abruptly stopped her from sharing what he said to her, citing an “abundance of caution” about potential attorney-client privilege issues.

The former Trump attorney also told prosecutors that she was asked to join a Dec. 7, 2020, conference call with Giuliani and two other Trump campaign officials — Mike Roman, who is also charged in the Georgia case, and Epshteyn — as they talked “legal strategy” with several Republicans who were slated to serve as Trump electors in Pennsylvania.

Ellis said she had not initially been privy to the “fake elector plot” and believed “it had been shielded from me specifically” — though she did not elaborate on why. Ellis said she became aware of the effort when she was added to a group text chain about the plan that included Giuliani, Epshteyn, Roman and Eastman.

Again citing concerns about attorney-client privilege, prosecutors asked Ellis not to divulge the substance of the text messages and limited their questioning about the conference call.

It was not immediately clear whether it was a different call from the one cited in Trump’s federal indictment on election inference. That indictment cited a Dec. 12 phone call between Pennsylvania Trump electors, Giuliani and other Trump allies who expressed concerns about signing documents “representing themselves as legitimate electors.”

Powell: ‘I’m sorry’

Powell’s video statement begins with a question from prosecutors about a six-minute phone call she had with Trump on Dec. 24, 2020.

“I don’t talk to the president at all, but you’re talking to him for six minutes,” the prosecutor says. “Why did you call him on Dec. 24?”

“Probably to see how he was doing and to say I’m sorry,” Powell replied.

“Sorry about what?”

“None of our cases were panning out,” she continued. “We were filing our cert petitions, but it wasn’t looking good for anything to happen in his direction. I just don’t have any recollection of our conversation that night.”

She added that Trump contacted her repeatedly because he “always wanted to know where things were in terms of finding fraud that would change the results of the election.”

Powell also acknowledged that she embarked on her role filing suits on Trump’s behalf even though she had never practiced election law before.

“Did I know anything about election law? No. But I understand fraud from having been a prosecutor for 10 years and knew generally what the fraud suit should be.”

Powell described in vivid detail the Dec. 18, 2020, Oval Office meeting at which she sought the appointment as special counsel. She recalled calling Meadows the next morning to say, “Hey, when can I come pick up my badge and my key?” and said Meadows “essentially laughed” and said, “You know, it’s not going to happen.”

Powell told prosecutors she still believes election machines flipped votes for Biden and believes many past elections have been flipped, too — “Bush stole Ohio in 2004,” she said. But they pressed her on the issue, asking how she can know that after admitting that she doesn’t personally understand how the machines work.

“I think you just said they make your eyes roll,” one of the prosecutors said. “So are you just kind of taking it on faith that they prove what they say they prove?”

“That and some common sense,” she replied. “I mean, an algorithm essentially works like a thermostat. You kick it in to raise it to a certain temperature, and then you make it stay within a range to come out the way you want it. Like the temperature set at 76, it’ll go from 78 down to 74. But it kind of, you know, constantly stays at 76 if they’re doing it by injecting a pool of false voters into the voter database. And it’s like having an extra deck of cards under the table that you deal from to, you know, get the hand you want.”

More than any of the other three defendants, Powell repeatedly left the room to consult with her attorney, Brian Rafferty.

Her interview also revealed the unusual nature of some of the connections between defendants. She said she knew Hall from an alligator hunt they had participated in together — and said she initially sought his professional services as a bail bondsman when she was indicted in the Fulton case.

“I was going to ask him about a bond, but he didn’t reply,” she said. “And then once I saw my bond conditions, I understood why.” (Bond conditions for all defendants prohibit them from discussing the case with one another.)

Powell also was asked about a 20-minute phone call she had with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021. “I think she woke me up that morning,” she said.

Powell said she couldn’t remember the details of the call. She was at her home in North Carolina, she said, because she “didn’t think any of it was a good idea” — meaning Trump’s planned rally.

Hall: ‘I was curious’

Hall’s video recording was meandering, and on multiple occasions his unwillingness or inability to answer the questions caused his own lawyer, Jeffrey Weiner, to become even more exasperated than the prosecutors.

Hall described Cheeley as part of a “brain trust” — and himself as a “water boy” — in organizing the foray into Coffee County. He also said he was just a “political tourist” who wanted to observe the effort to copy data from the county election office.

“I was curious,” he said.

At one point, Hall recalled gathering with others in Cheeley’s law office on Jan. 6, 2021 — the day before the trip to Coffee County. Prosecutors asked Hall whether he recalled discussing the violence that was unfolding at the U.S. Capitol that day.

“I don’t have any recollection of conversations about that,” Hall replied.

Hall’s lawyer exploded.

“Scott, Scott, listen,” he said. “That event was a gigantic, major event in the history of our nation. It involved the Trump campaign, the Trump supporters. This was something that is in everyone’s minds forever who watched it. So when you’re asked the question, and you go, ‘I might have, it could have been,’ I mean, everybody that I know was glued to the TV and couldn’t believe what was happening. How could they not be watching it in Cheeley’s office?”

Hall also said Cheeley played a role in trying to locate Freeman, the Fulton election worker — and probably enlisted his help doing so, given his skill set as a bail bondsman, but he claimed not to recall for sure.

“Bob would have probably called me and said, you know, ‘Hey, you know, we’re trying to locate this person,’” Hall said.

Adriana Usero, Michael Cadenhead and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.

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.