In a major loss for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and a worrying sign for former President Donald Trump, a federal judge denied his request to shift his Georgia criminal case to federal court on Friday.
US District Judge Steve Jones ruled that Meadows’ election subversion charges in the Fulton County district attorney’s indictment were mostly “related to political activities” and not to his White House chief of staff post.
“The evidence before the Court overwhelmingly suggests that Meadows was not acting in his scope of executive branch duties during most of the Overt Acts alleged,” wrote Obama appointee Jones.
Though the judge stated it did not apply to the other defendants, the Friday ruling has major consequences for the former president and his 18 co-defendants in the Fulton County district attorney’s vast racketeering case. Meadows was the first of five defendants to request a federal court hearing, and Trump is anticipated to follow suit.
Meadows unsuccessfully claimed that his Georgia state court case should be relocated because the indictment related to his White House chief of staff duties. His lawyers sought federal court to dismiss the lawsuit by asserting federal immunity granted to some US government employees charged or sued for government behavior.
Other defendants wishing to relocate their cases may follow the judge’s ruling. The defendants attempting to claim federal immunity should be wary.
The court specifically indicated in his order that he is not judging Fulton County’s criminal case against Meadows, who has pled not guilty.
Jones said that Meadows did not meet the “‘quite low’ threshold for removal” to federal court since his Trump campaign efforts were outside his federal function as White House chief of staff.
“The Court finds that the color of the Office of the White House Chief of Staff did not include working with or for the Trump campaign, except for coordinating the President’s schedule, traveling with him to campaign events, and redirecting communications to the campaign,” Jones wrote. “Thus, consistent with his testimony and federal statutes and regulations, political activities exceed the Office of the White House Chief of Staff.”
The judge said the Hatch Act, which forbids government personnel from political engagement, was “helpful in defining the outer limits of the White House Chief of Staff’s authority.”
“These prohibitions on executive branch employees (including the White House Chief of Staff) support the Court’s conclusion that Meadows has not shown how his actions relate to his federal executive branch office. Thus, federal officer removal is inapplicable, the judge ruled.
‘Outside Meadows’ federal role
Meadows was indicted for eight overt actions to change the 2020 election results. Meadows claimed that these actions were federal duties and that the matter should be brought to federal court, but Jones disagreed.
Jones wrote, “The Court finds insufficient evidence to establish that the gravamen or a heavy majority of overt acts alleged against Meadows relate to his role as White House Chief of Staff.” Meadows also failed to prove that his actions served a legitimate executive branch purpose.
Meadows’ participation in Trump’s early January 2021 phone discussion with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump infamously urged Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to defeat Joe Biden, was crucial.
Jones found this phone call “was made regarding private litigation brought by President and his campaign” and “therefore outside Meadows’ federal role as an executive branch officer.”
Jones ruled that Meadows’ other late 2020 actions, including communications with state leaders Trump believed would help him discredit the election results, were unrelated to his federal employment.
“The Court finds that the underlying substance of those meetings and calls were related to political activities and not to Meadows’s federal office,” the judge ruled.
Meadows first to request federal deportation.
Meadows took a big risk by testifying on the removal bid at a recent hearing, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ team questioned him under oath. Future prosecutors may use his testimony against him.
After Trump and his 18 co-defendants were charged, Trump’s lawyers indicated they would try to shift the case to federal court, as Trump had failed to attempt in New York. On Thursday, Trump’s lawyers notified the state judge that he may transfer the issue to federal court, but they haven’t filed the necessary paperwork.
Trump has 30 days after pleading not guilty to make a motion.
CNN contacted Meadows and Trump’s lawyers for comment.
Meadows, Jeffrey Clark, a former Trump DOJ staffer, and three Georgia GOP leaders who were Trump’s false electors have also petitioned to shift their cases to federal court. Former Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer and GOP Coffee County Chairwoman Cathy Latham have a joint hearing on September 20, while Georgia state senator Shawn Still, the third false elector seeking federal removal, has a hearing on September 18.
Meadows’ request was denied, but Shafer, Still, and Latham claim they were Trump-directed phony electors. The phony electors, unlike Meadows, who served in the White House in 2020, were nominated to serve as actual electors for Trump if he won Georgia, who would have participated in the federally mandated Electoral College process.
Jones said Friday that his Meadows order “does not, at this time, have any effect on” the other defendants asking to take their case to federal court. Jones is set to hold evidentiary hearings on those motions later this month.
Jones stated that the Court will evaluate the Defendants’ arguments and evidence after the hearings, regardless of its Meadows case ruling.
Many reasons exist for Meadows and the other defendants to move to federal court. A federal trial would certainly have a jury more sympathetic to Trump and his co-defendants on top of immunity arguments under the Supremacy Clause.
The state courtroom for this case is in deep-blue Fulton County, while the federal court district includes the more Republican northern half of the state.
Meadows reportedly spoke for over three hours about what happened in the White House after the 2020 election at his hearing last month to assist in taking his case to federal court.
Meadows claimed that his work as the president’s senior adviser, even when it touched politics, fit into his chief of staff duty.
“It’s still my job to keep the president safe and productive. Meadows described his role as serving the president of the United States, which might take several forms.
Fulton County prosecutors questioned Meadows about how his position included setting up campaign lawyer phone calls like Trump’s January 2021 conversation with Raffensperger.
Jones found Meadows’ high-stakes testimony on the witness stand weak and used it against him in the verdict.
Jones wrote that Meadows’ testimony on the scope of his authority was “less weight” than the other evidence because he was unable to explain the limits of his authority, other than his inability to stump for the President or work on behalf of the campaign.
Jones also noted Meadows’ admission that the lawyers he included in the phone discussion with Georgia’s secretary of state worked for Trump or his campaign, not the government.
At Meadows’ hearing, Fulton County prosecutors subpoenaed Raffensperger, who stated that the federal government had no role in certifying Georgia’s elections.
“It was a campaign call,” Raffensperger said.