Trump’s election case in Georgia faces its first major test
A co-defendant with Donald Trump in the Georgia election interference investigation testified as he tried to take his case to federal court.
The hearing for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows presents a closely watched challenge for Attorney General Fanny Willis.
If Meadows succeeds, it could pave the way for Trump and the other defendants to transfer their cases as well.
He accused Trump, Meadows and 17 others of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 state election.
All 19 defendants at Fulton County Jail in Atlanta surrendered last week, including Trump, whose selfie was taken.
Court filings released Monday indicate that they will be arraigned on September 6, when they are each expected to file a petition.
Trump, the front-runner to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has denied any wrongdoing and said the Georgia attorney general was politically motivated.
Mr. Meadows is accused of arranging calls and meetings in which Trump allegedly pressured state election officials to change the vote count in his favour. He is charged with racketeering and a felony solicitation for breach of oath by a public servant.
The former White House aide and his lawyers said he was acting as a federal employee and therefore his case should be transferred from state court to federal court.
On Monday, Meadows faced cross-examination from his attorney George Terwilliger III, as well as special prosecutor Anna Cross and US District Judge Steve Jones, who presided over the hearing.
During the nearly three hours of testimony, According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution“I don’t know that I’ve done anything outside of my job as chief of staff,” Meadows said.
He testified that his role gave him “a very broad responsibility”, Politico She stated that the federal government had a legitimate interest in ensuring “accurate and fair elections”.
Ms. Willis, the Fulton County District Attorney, was expected to present some of her case in court and challenge Mr. Meadows’ reasoning that the proceedings should be transferred.
Attempt to transfer judicial powers
Ms. Willis, a Democrat, has filed charges in the state of Georgia, which means that for now the case will be overseen by state court in Fulton County, which includes the Atlanta area.
But under a process known as “removal,” defendants can argue that their cases should be tried in federal court if they were acting in the capacity of federal employees. However, they will still be prosecuted on state charges.
Meadows, who served as White House chief of staff at the time of the alleged crimes, makes this argument.
“Mr. Meadows has the right to remove this matter,” his lawyers wrote in a recent court filing. “The conduct that led to the charges in the indictment occurred during his tenure and as part of his service as Chief of Staff.”
They also argued that “there is nothing Mr. Meadows is alleged to have done in the indictment that is in itself criminal.”
Four other defendants — former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, Rep. Sean Steele, former Georgia Republican President David Schaeffer, and bogus voter Kathy Latham — also filed for removal.
Legal experts have told the BBC that Trump’s lawyers may also try to file an extradition case.
Mr. Meadows is the first to receive a hearing, making his impeachment attempt a key test to see if other defendants might follow suit.
Advantages of moving the case
There may be some incentive for the defendant to take his case to the federal court.
The first is the assumption of a broader and more politically diverse jury. Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, is a strongly Democratic county. The federal state of North Georgia includes a wider area, including some Republican counties. But a friendlier jury cannot be guaranteed by a change of federal court.
A jury can still be withdrawn from a section of that federal jurisdiction that includes the counties surrounding Atlanta. Trump lost several counties surrounding Atlanta in the 2020 election.
A shift to federal jurisdiction would put the case on a smoother path through federal appeals courts and possibly to the US Supreme Court, which enjoys a 6-3 conservative majority thanks to Trump’s appointments.
A move to federal court could also buy out the attorneys representing Meadows and the other plaintiffs sometime while they engage in more legal maneuvering related to the switch.
Another potential benefit is that cameras are not normally allowed in a federal courtroom.
But even if any of the cases move to federal court, neither Trump nor any Republican who holds the White House in 2024 will be able to pardon these alleged crimes.
The president’s pardon power extends to convictions for federal, not state, offenses.
Georgia’s drawn-out amnesty process means that any legal delay will take years to bear fruit – if ever.