A Plea-Deal Apology by a Trump Lawyer

Jenna Ellis, one of President Donald Trump’s attorneys after the November 2020 election, pled guilty this week in a Georgia court to aiding and abetting false statements and writings, a felony. In December 2020, she joined Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Ray Smith in making false allegations to the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee that thousands of unregistered, under-age, and dead people voted in Georgia on November 3, 2020. Her plea deal included no jail time, five years probation, $5,000 restitution to the State of Georgia, 100 hours of community service, cooperation with the state to testify if needed – and to write an apology letter to the citizens of the state of Georgia, which she read at her plea hearing on October 24, 2023.

Her apology begins with her high standards for herself, “both as a lawyer and as a Christian.” Because she never mentions how seriously she compromised those standards, the effect of this is to imply that she’s really not a bad person, she just made this one little mistake. There should’ve been another sentence along the lines of, “I failed to live up to those standards.”

She says she wanted to challenge the 2020 presidential election results “in a just and legal way,” without offering why she felt they needed to be challenged at all. She notes that she “relied on others, including lawyers with many more years of experience than I, to provide me with true and reliable information.” She is presumably referring here to Rudy Giuliani and Ray Smith. She does not explain why she chose to listen to these two lawyers instead of to thousands of other experienced lawyers and judges. Instead, she seems to compare their experience with her inexperience so as to justify her gullibility. It would’ve been better to omit the reference to their “years of experience,” because it diminishes her ownership of her own failings, which is an essential element of a good apology. Or she could’ve distanced herself from it, e.g., “at the time, I thought they could be trusted because they had many years of experience, but I realize now that I should not have relied on that.”

She gets to the heart of it: “What I did not do, but should have done, was to make sure that the facts the other lawyers alleged to be true were in fact true …. I failed to do my due diligence.” She takes responsibility; good. But she blames her failure on the “frenetic pace of attempting to raise challenges in several states,” as if that excuses the lack of due diligence. Like, you didn’t have time to determine whether the statements were true before you began asserting them? Her apology would sound more sincere if she had just omitted that allusion to time constraints. Or, again, distance herself: “At the time, it felt like everything was happening too fast to verify things, but that was the wrong perspective.”

“I look back on this whole experience with deep remorse for those failures of mine. If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges.” This part sounds sincere. Some expression of regret or remorse is another essential element of a good apology.

If you were the judge, would you have accepted this apology? I don’t think I would. “Failure to do due diligence” isn’t a felony. Lying is. She never admitted that she lied. Instead, she implied that she was too young and too busy to find out the truth, and that her biggest mistake was to trust experienced lawyers. If she were a teenager, this might suffice. But not for a lawyer who was 36 years old at the time. Perhaps for this reason, the Colorado bar has censured her. The Washington Post reports that, after she cut a deal with the Colorado bar to avoid disbarment, she clarified that lying requires intentionally making a false statement, and “I never did that, nor did I stipulate to or admit that.”


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: