Mark Meadows, Fulton DA square off over his bid to move 2020 Georgia election case to federal court

Scales of Justice with the word justice over it.

by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

August 29, 2023

Former White House chief of staff for Donald Trump, Mark Meadows, on Monday became the first defendant charged in the Fulton County 2020 presidential election interference case to receive a hearing on his attempt to move the case to federal court. 

The one-time top aide for the former Republican president, who was also indicted earlier this month, testified for several hours on Monday in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, according to news reports. Meadows is accused of racketeering and solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer for his role in a phone call in which Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, to “find 11,780 votes,” which would have been enough to tilt Georgia’s election in the outgoing president’s favor. 

That phone conversation became a lynchpin in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ yearslong investigation that resulted on Aug. 14 with a grand jury handing down a 41-count indictment against Trump and 18 of his allies on multi-state charges of racketeering and conspiracy related to the 2020 election. Meadows is one of several defendants seeking to have the case moved to a federal court to bolster their legal argument that they acted on behalf of the government.

Meadows claims he was merely performing his job duties to ensure that Trump could carry out his role as president. The conversation with Raffensperger took place a few days prior to the Jan. 6th U.S. Capitol breach as Congress was set to certify Biden’s election. The indictment also alleges Meadows texted a Georgia secretary of state investigator asking if Fulton County’s ballot signature verification could be accelerated if Trump’s campaign provided financial assistance. 

Fulton County prosecutors have disputed Meadows’ claims that he legally acted in his capacity as Trump’s advisor. The attorneys for Meadows argue their client cannot be prosecuted at the state level since federal law prohibits states from prosecuting federal officers who are acting in their official capacities. 

Meadows admitted on Monday that he was unsure whether some attorneys on the Raffensperger call should be considered a Trump campaign attorney, CNN reported. He also claimed that the phone call was made out of concern about a signature verification process for absentee ballots after mail-in ballots helped Democratic candidate Joe Biden narrowly win the presidential contest in Georgia. 

“It’s still a part of my job to make sure the president is safe and secure and able to perform his job,” Meadows testified on Monday.

Meadow’s four-hour hearing took place before Judge Steve Jones in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The downtown Atlanta courtroom is just a few blocks away from the Fulton County courthouse, where Willis is pursuing a historic racketeering and conspiracy case against a former sitting president who is now the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Meadows’ attorneys are trying to move the case to federal jurisdiction to boost the possibility that Meadows will get consideration as a federal officer and improve his chances for a not guilty verdict or outright dismissal of the case. Fulton County is a heavily Democratic county and moving Meadows’ case to federal court also increases the chance of securing a more conservative group of jurors.

On Monday, MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she and many other former prosecutors she knows incorrectly predicted Meadows would not take the stand at the hearing. 

“Meadows’s team concluded they had no other way of shouldering their burden of proof that he was acting as a federal officer beyond Meadows’s own testimony,” Rubin posted on social media. “And that means either they were unable to convince any Meadows allies with firsthand knowledge of his activities and/or Trump’s directives to take the stand for him—or that because of the secrecy with which they operated, no such witnesses exist.”

Raffensperger appears before federal judge

The sweeping Fulton probe centers on Trump and a number of his supporters who lodged unfounded claims that widespread election fraud cost him the 2020 election in Georgia by nearly 12,000 votes. 

Willis, an Atlanta Democrat, has been accused of political bias by Trump and his attorneys who argue she has held fundraisers for candidates of her party in the past.

Among the defendants is former Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer, ex-Coffee County GOP Chairwoman Cathy Latham, and recently elected state Sen. Shawn Still, who served as an alternate slate of GOP electors that cast false votes in favor of Trump as they met inside the Georgia Capitol just several weeks after the 2020 election. 

Latham is also accused of organizing the intrusion into her county’s voting systems.

In 2020, Raffensperger overwhelmingly won a second term as secretary of state in spite of becoming a staunch Trump enemy due to his refusal to overturn the 2020 election in Trump’s favor. 

The public release of the 2021 phone call was approved by Raffensperger, who has repeatedly defended the validity of the 2020 election results that were confirmed by a recount and several investigations by federal and state authorities.

ABC News reported Monday that Raffensperger testified that he assumed he was talking to Trump campaign attorneys on the call.

Key court date for Trump, other Fulton defendants

Monday was a busy day for planned arraignments and a bond hearing for the Fulton election investigation.

A plea and arraignment hearing in Trump’s Fulton County case is set for 9:30 am on Sept. 6.

Meanwhile Harrison Floyd, the only defendant still held in the Fulton jail out of the 19 arrested, is set to have a bond hearing in Fulton court this Thursday. Floyd is a member of the Blacks for Trump group and is accused of attempting to intimidate Fulton poll worker Ruby Freeman ahead of her testimony about the overnight counting of absentee ballots at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena.

While Fulton prosecutors and the attorneys for the 19 defendants negotiated the start date for the trials, a key date was set Monday in the U.S. Department of Justice case that also accuses the former president of illegally trying to subvert the 2020 election.

A federal judge on Monday set March 4 as the start of the trial for Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election. 

Willis has also pushed for a spring trial for Trump while prosecutors and defense attorneys have battled over ramping up the cases for co-defendants into fall 2023.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.