On Tuesday, former Donald Trump attorney Jenna Ellis’ tearful turn in a Georgia courtroom, where she pleaded guilty to reduced charges in supporting attempts to overturn that state’s 2020 election, was telling. Not in what she said, but what she didn’t say.
We had hoped to hear the words: “I was wrong. I am deeply sorry.”
But we did not.
Words that might remedy the scale of wreckage and the harm she caused election workers and Dominion Voting Systems staff members, whose very lives were threatened.
Or words that could soothe friends and families no longer on speaking terms, far apart on whether Joe Biden is our rightful president, a cornerstone of Trump’s continued political viability.
Ellis could have acknowledged her ridiculous argument that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to reject or delay the counting of electoral votes by simply not opening envelopes from swing states. Calling herself a “constitutional law expert,” her pitch was constitutionally defective.
Or she might have apologized for her part in dividing this country to the degree that reasonable people pondered a civil war.
But, no. Her feeling “deep remorse” isn’t near enough. Remorse that she was charged? Remorse that her career is in a free-fall? Remorse that time spent alongside Trump, enjoying the perks of his inner circle, was too short?
Ellis has much explaining to do.
We want insight into her journey that ended with her crying before a Georgia judge, seemingly for her own hide.
Ellis accepted a felony count of aiding and abetting false statements and writings. She joined others who flipped, and are expected to testify against Trump and Rudy Giuliani. She both sidestepped responsibility and foreshadowed her intent, saying she relied on information provided from some “with many more years of experience than I.” She failed to do her “due diligence.” A thinly stretched statement.
Maybe Ellis was swept up in the celebrity of it all, on major TV networks, on radio stations. Considering her humble legal beginnings as a deputy district attorney in Weld County from 2012 to 2013, handling traffic offenses and other low-level misdemeanors, her rise to becoming Trump’s lawyer is the stuff of dreams for a young conservative woman.
Her belief in Trump was always apparent. In 2016 while an assistant professor of legal studies at Colorado Christian University, she said with a partial laugh on KLZ 560 talk radio that she’d tear off safety pins displayed by students after Trump’s victory, and flunk the wearers. Safety pins symbolized support for groups such as Muslims and undocumented immigrants who said they felt threatened by Trump.
Ellis later apologized, but her path to Trump’s White House was already paved.
In the 2018 Colorado legislative session, she testified in support of a pair of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, one allowing adoption agencies to refuse placing children with same-sex parents and the other giving business owners carte blanche to violate civil rights law if they cited religious reasons.
Once on Team Trump, Ellis lied with enthusiasm, taking the election-fraud show on the road with Giuliani and accusing states of suppressing votes. For lawmakers unconvinced, they offered a how-to fake elector scheme to overturn results.
In May 2020 on KHOW’s Dan Caplis’ show, Ellis floated conspiracies, claiming fraudulent voting machines may have “swung” Colorado’s election. She also accused Dems of using the pandemic to eliminate voting safeguards, and said they tried to legalize ballot harvesting, implement a nationwide mail-in ballot system and other things to “eliminate election integrity.”
Words with weight for the listening audience.
Ellis, a Christian, told the judge through tears, “I take my responsibilities as a lawyer very seriously and I endeavor to be a person of sound, moral and ethical character in all of my dealings.”
A basic principle of conservatism is personal responsibility – we’d like to actually see that now.
We believe in redemption, for Ellis and each one of us. In the courtroom, she said, “If I knew then what I know now.”
We’d like Ellis to return to that moment, the point of origin when she took that first step toward the false election narrative. And we want a redo, a systemic plan to atone for dire mistakes.
Some ideas. She could reach out to those harassed by election deniers. She could get to know some LGBTQ+ teens or volunteer to help refugees on legal matters.
Or, most important, make a commitment to align herself with people guided by grace.
There is hope for Ellis. She just needs to turn toward and walk in the right direction, toward the light.