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Georgia judge seeks to protect evidence in election interference case after leaks

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee is seen on the bench during a guilty plea by Jenna Ellis on Oct. 24 in Atlanta.
John Bazemore
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee is seen on the bench during a guilty plea by Jenna Ellis on Oct. 24 in Atlanta.

Updated November 16, 2023 at 12:29 PM ET

ATLANTA — A Georgia judge has granted an order barring disclosure of certain discovery materials in the sweeping 2020 election interference case after excerpts of recorded interviews with some defendants were leaked.

The Fulton County district attorney's office previously asked Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee in September for a protective order over evidence provided to defendants in the 19-person racketeering case, but renewed the request on Tuesday after media outlets reported on snippets of so-called "proffer" videos from four defendants who struck plea deals in recent weeks.

McAfee held a hearing Wednesday and granted the order on Thursday.

The recordings from Atlanta bail bondsman Scott Hall and lawyers Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and Jenna Ellis were first reported by ABC News and then The Washington Post and include new revelations into the failed efforts to reverse former President Donald Trump's 2020 election defeat in Georgia that has Trump and several allies facing conspiracy charges.

In one of the videos, Ellis relays being told by an aide in late 2020 that Trump said he would refuse to leave the White House.

Prosecutors argued Tuesday that the public release of the videos, offered to defendants in the case through the discovery process, was "clearly intended to intimidate witnesses in this case, subjecting them to harassment and threats prior to trial." Prosecutors said they were not behind the leak of the materials, and that moving forward any proffer videos would only be available to view in the DA's office.

McAfee's order allows prosecutors to flag discovery items as "sensitive materials" that should not be disclosed. If defendants contest the designation and the two sides can't agree, the judge will decide.

In agreeing to the order, McAfee wrote, "The likelihood of harm in this case is severe, as extensive media coverage guarantees broad dissemination of any disclosed discovery materials."

The disclosure of proffer videos and push for a protective order are the latest developments in a complicated legal battle over the sprawling racketeering case that has now spanned three different courtrooms, seen four guilty pleas, and could have Trump stand trial in a televised setting at some point in 2024, though a trial date has not been set for him or the remaining defendants.

Copyright 2023 Georgia Public Broadcasting

Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.

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