A judge on Friday denied former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ bid to move the Georgia criminal case against him to federal court, ruling that his alleged involvement in efforts to pressure state leaders to overturn the 2020 election results was not a part of his official duties as a government official.
U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones issued the ruling after holding a hearing on the matter in Atlanta federal court last week that included five hours of testimony from Meadows, who along with former President Donald Trump was charged last month in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ sweeping election interference case.
“The Court concludes that Meadows has not shown that the actions that triggered the State’s prosecution related to his federal office,” Jones wrote, adding “Meadows’s alleged association with post-election activities was not related to his role as White House Chief of Staff or his executive branch authority.”
State prosecutors, Jones said, had “put forth evidence that at various points during the time of the alleged conspiracy Meadows worked with the Trump campaign, which he admitted was outside of the role of the White House Chief of Staff.”
“In light of the State’s evidence that Meadows undertook actions on behalf of the campaign during the time period of the alleged conspiracy, Meadows was required to come forward with competent proof of his factual contention that his actions involving challenges to the outcome of the Georgia’s Presidential election results were within his role as Chief of Staff. His efforts fall short,” the judge wrote.
To date, five of the 19 defendants in the DA’s case have moved to have their case heard in federal court. In a court filing this week, Trump said he might move to do so as well. Under court-ordered deadlines, he has until the end of this month to decide, according to the filing.
Jones said in Friday’s ruling that his decision does not impact the pending removal efforts of the other four defendants.
The indictment in Fulton County alleges Trump, Meadows and the 17 others engaged in schemes aimed at subverting the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia, a battleground state that was won by Joe Biden.
Meadows is charged with violation of the Georgia RICO Act and solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer for his involvement in Trump’s Jan. 2, 2021, call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger encouraging him to “find” the exact number of votes needed to defeat Biden. He’s pleaded not guilty.
Meadows’ lawyers argued that the charges all pertain to official actions he took while he worked for the president, and the case should therefore be heard in federal court, where he could assert additional defenses.
“Mr. Meadows has the right to remove this matter. The conduct giving rise to the charges in the indictment all occurred during his tenure and as part of his service as Chief of Staff,” Meadows’ lawyers wrote in a 14-page filing.
The DA’s office countered that White House officials shouldn’t be involved in political campaigns. “Federal law prohibits employees of the executive branch from engaging in political activity in the course of their work,” they noted, pointing to the Hatch Act, a law Meadows once told Politico “nobody outside of the Beltway really cares” about.
The law “bars a federal employee from ‘us[ing] his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election’” — exactly the conduct Meadows is charged with, prosecutors noted.
In his ruling, Jones agreed that “engaging in political activities exceeds the outer limits of the Office of the White House Chief of Staff.”
Two of the 19 defendants in the case, former Trump attorneys Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, have requested a speedy trial in the case, and are scheduled to stand trial next month.