Judge refuses to move prosecution of Mark Meadows to federal court

Judge refuses to move prosecution of Mark Meadows to federal court

The prosecution of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for attempting to overturn the 2020 election will remain in Georgia state court, a federal judge ruled Friday as he turned down Meadows’ bid to move the case to federal court.

The decision is a victory for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ drive to bring former President Donald Trump, Meadows and 17 other defendants to trial under the state’s broad criminal racketeering statute for their roles in trying to help Trump cling to power.

Meadows filed an appeal to the 11th Circuit on Friday night.

“The Court concludes that Meadows has not shown that the actions that triggered the State’s prosecution related to his federal office,” U.S. District Judge Steve Jones wrote in his decision, while emphasizing that he was not ruling on the right of any other defendant to have the case against them moved to the federal system.

Jones, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, concluded that Meadows was not acting within the scope of his employment at the White House when he organized a Jan. 2, 2021 phone call where Trump pressed Georgia’s secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to declare him the victor in that state. Other actions that Meadows took, as described in a grand jury’s indictment last month, similarly fell outside Meadows’ official duties, the judge said.

“Meadows’s participation on the January 2, 2021 call was political in nature and involved the President’s private litigation, neither of which are related to the scope of the Office of White House Chief of Staff,” Jones wrote. “The Court finds that these contributions to the phone call with Secretary Raffensperger went beyond those activities that are within the official role of White House Chief of Staff, such as scheduling the President’s phone calls, observing meetings, and attempting to wrap up meetings in order to keep the President on schedule.”

By finding that Meadows acted outside the scope of his duties, Jones concluded that Meadows is not eligible for so-called “removal” — a procedure under federal law that allows federal officials to transfer a case from state court to federal court if the case is based on their official acts.

Meadows’ attorneys had signaled that they hoped to move the case to federal court as a precursor to arguing that the case against him should be thrown out on grounds that as a former federal officer he’s immune from charges relating to his duties. And if a trial went forward in federal court, the jury pool would likely have been broader and slightly friendlier to Trump and his allies than one drawn only from Fulton County.

A federal court trial also would be unlikely to be televised, whereas the state court judge has already vowed to livestream all the proceedings.

Four other defendants in the Georgia case have also asked for the cases against them to be moved to federal court: former Justice Department official Jeff Clark and three pro-Trump activists accused of falsely certifying that they were presidential electors from the state. Those requests remain pending with Jones, and he said he was not pre-judging them as he turned down Meadows.

If any of the other requests are granted, it is not clear if the entire 19-defendant case would be transferred to federal court or if some defendants would remain in state court. But Meadows’ failure to convince Jones that the case should be transferred bodes poorly for the other defendants who are hoping to get into federal court, because those defendants’ actions were much further removed than Meadows’ from the heart of their day-to-day job duties — if they had any at all.

So far, Trump has not joined those seeking to move their cases to federal court, but on Thursday Trump’s attorney sent the state-court judge a notice saying the former president “may” seek to transfer the case before a deadline at the end of this month.

“What the Court must decide for purposes of federal officer removal is whether the actions Meadows took as a participant in the alleged enterprise (the charged conduct) were related to his federal role as White House Chief of Staff,” Jones wrote. “The actions at the heart of the State’s charges against Meadows were taken on behalf of the Trump campaign with an ultimate goal of affecting state election activities and procedures.”

Jones also sided with Willis’ argument that the Hatch Act — a federal law that prohibits political activity by government employees — plays a crucial role in assessing whether Meadows was acting in his official capacity. Though Jones stopped short of concluding that Meadows violated the Hatch Act, the judge said the law makes clear the outer boundaries of a federal official’s role.

But he also stressed that the racketeering case was a novel test for the removal statute, given that most efforts to send state cases to federal court involve individual defendants or a small number of discrete acts — not a 19-defendant conspiracy with a sprawling scope.

Trump, Meadows and the other 17 defendants were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury last month following a two-year investigation carried out by Willis’ office. The group is charged with conspiring to try to keep Trump in office by tampering with the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

All the defendants have pleaded not guilty, and several — including Trump — have decried the prosecution as politically motivated.

“So, the Witch Hunt continues!” Trump wrote on his own social media platform on the day he was indicted last month, blasting Willis as “an out of control and very corrupt District Attorney.”

The 98-page indictment in the Georgia case — one of four criminal prosecutions Trump is facing — alleges that several different efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the vote count in the state were part of a single conspiracy to keep him in office unlawfully.

The indictment focuses on the January 2021 conference call in which Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to “find” enough votes in the state to declare Trump the victor. But the charges also delve into the efforts to organize activists to pose as electors for Trump, an alleged scheme to tamper with voting machines in Coffee County, Ga. and false ballot tampering allegations against poll workers in Fulton County.

At a hearing last week, lawyers for Meadows argued that his official remit as a federal employee was extraordinarily broad and encompassed resolving virtually any matter that had the potential to distract Trump from his official duties. Meadows and his attorneys portrayed him as a minor, almost trivial, figure in the efforts to change Georgia’s vote count and to convene slates of pro-Trump electors after officials had declared Biden the winner.

Willis’ prosecutors said Meadows’ actions were clearly political in nature, not official, and they stressed that the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity under the auspices of their official positions.

Powered by WPeMatico

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: