ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge in Atlanta is set to hear arguments Monday on whether Mark Meadows should be allowed to fight the Georgia indictment accusing him of participating in an illegal scheme to overturn the 2020 election in federal court rather than in a state court.
The former White House chief of staff was charged earlier this month along with former President Donald Trump and 17 other people. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who used Georgia’s racketeering law to bring the case, alleges that they participated in a wide-ranging conspiracy to illegally try to keep the Republican incumbent president in power even after his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Lawyers for Meadows argue that his actions that gave rise to the charges in the indictment “all occurred during his tenure and as part of his service as Chief of Staff.” They argue he did nothing criminal and that the charges against him should be dismissed. In the meantime, they want U.S. District Judge Steve Jones to move the case to federal court to halt any proceedings against him at the state level.
Willis’ team argues that the actions in question were meant solely to keep Trump in office. These actions were explicitly political in nature and are illegal under the Hatch Act, which restricts partisan political activity by federal employees, they wrote in a response to Meadows’ notice of removal to federal court. They believe the case should remain in Fulton County Superior Court.
The allegations against Meadows include: participating in meetings or communications with state lawmakers along with Trump and others that were meant to advance the alleged illegal scheme to keep Trump in power; traveling to Atlanta’s suburbs where a ballot envelope signature audit was happening; arranging a phone call between Trump and a Georgia secretary of state investigator; participating in a January 2021 phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during which Trump suggested Raffensperger could help “find” the votes needed for him to win Georgia.
Since Meadows was “forbidden by law to use his authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election or otherwise participate in activity directed toward the success of Mr. Trump as a candidate for the presidency, every single one of these activities fell outside the scope of his duties, both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law,” Willis’ team argues. But even if that weren’t the case, it’s clear these actions weren’t part of his official duties, they argue.
Willis’ team has subpoenaed several witnesses to appear at Monday’s hearing, including Raffensperger, former Georgia secretary of state’s office chief investigator Frances Watson, and two lawyers who did work for Trump in Georgia in the aftermath of the election but who were not named in the indictment. They have also submitted excerpts of previously taken depositions of several people, including former Meadows assistant Cassidy Hutchinson.
Meadows is not entitled to immunity under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which basically says that federal law takes precedence over state law, because his actions were “improper political activity” that weren’t part of his official duties and the evidence shows that he had “personal or criminal motivations for acting,” Willis’ team argued.
In response to Willis’ team’s filing, Meadows’ lawyers said all that is at issue at the moment is whether the case should be moved to federal court and that he has met that “very low threshold.”
Meadows was a federal official and his actions were part of that role, they wrote, noting that the chief of staff has “broad-ranging duties to advise and assist the President.” The merits of his arguments of immunity cannot be used to decide whether the case should be moved to federal court, they argued.
They added that the “Hatch Act is a red herring, particularly at this stage,” and shouldn’t even be discussed until after the case is moved to federal court. “Nonetheless, Mr. Meadows complied with federal law in connection with the charged conduct,” they wrote.
At least four others charged in the indictment are also seeking to move the case to federal court, including U.S. Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark. The other three — former Georgia Republican Party chair David Shafer, Georgia state Sen. Shawn Still and Cathy Latham — are among the 16 Georgia Republicans who signed a certificate declaring falsely that Trump had won the 2020 presidential election and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors.
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