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Eastman says he wants sooner plea deadline, split from Trump

The MAGA lawyer has proposed splitting the remaining Georgia defendants into three groups, with the leading GOP presidential candidate in his own trial.

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Donald Trump co-defendant John Eastman says he wants a sooner plea deadline than Georgia prosecutors have requested, and he suggested that Trump be tried separately from the remaining 15 co-defendants in the election subversion case.?

After Fulton County prosecutors asked for a plea deadline of June 21 and an Aug. 5 trial, an attorney for the MAGA lawyer wrote in an opposition filing Monday:

The ‘Final Plea date’ should be established earlier in 2024 so that Defendants who do not have lifetime United States Secret Service protection and who are not running for election to an office can exercise and have their right to a jury trial completed within 2024. ... Without Defendant Trump in the courtroom the U.S. Secret Service will not be involved in providing enhanced security, and the trials will proceed faster.

Whatever his intentions, it’s interesting that Eastman is asking to speed things up. And whether or not Judge Scott McAfee takes him up on his suggestion, it’s worth thinking through the implications of the request and what lies ahead in the case.

Just as I initially predicted that the case wasn’t going to proceed with all original 19 defendants in a single trial, a 15-defendant trial is almost as unlikely, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that more people will almost surely plead guilty. We’ve seen that happen with four defendants so far. The pleas by Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro came just ahead of their scheduled speedy trial, showing that the prospect of a forthcoming trial can move the parties toward agreement. (Eastman and Trump have both pleaded not guilty.)

Just as I initially predicted that the case wasn’t going to proceed with all original 19 defendants in a single trial, a 15-defendant trial is almost as unlikely, for a number of reasons.

Against that backdrop, Eastman’s filing asks for a final plea date “earlier in 2024” and to split the remaining defendants into two groups of eight or fewer people, meaning a total of three trials, including one for Trump alone. Though McAfee might not be inclined to give Trump his own trial merely for the reasons Eastman states, it makes sense to split the remaining defendants into multiple potential trials in some way, at some point.

Another possible issue with Eastman’s broad suggestion is that it doesn’t explain how the remaining defendants should be grouped together; put differently, it doesn’t explain why certain defendants should be split from others (besides Trump). McAfee may want to take such considerations into account if he is inclined to sever defendants. Eastman’s filing asked for a hearing, so if he gets one, the judge could explore the finer points there; Trump has also requested a hearing. At any rate, having a final plea date sooner rather than later could lessen the severance issue by weeding out additional defendants who want to avoid trial.

It remains to be seen whether the eventual plea deadline, whenever it is, will truly be the last opportunity for negotiated pleas. Prosecutors may still want to avoid trials if they can come to satisfactory deals as any further trials near, and sometimes it takes the reality of an impending trial for both sides to come to agreement. But however this gets sliced up, don’t expect a 15-defendant trial.?

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