Judges pressure Meadows' lawyer to move Georgia case to federal court


A lawyer for Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff under former President Donald J. Trump, faced tough questions from a panel of judges on Friday as Meadows renewed his bid to move a Georgia election interference case from court. state to federal court. .

The appeals court's three-judge panel heard brief oral arguments from a Georgia prosecutor and an attorney for Meadows on jurisdiction of the case, in which Meadows is accused of working with a group of people to overturn the 2020 election of Trump. loss in the state.

The judges asked pointed questions of both sides, but seemed particularly skeptical of the arguments presented by Mr. Meadows, who claims that the allegations against him concern actions he took as a federal official and therefore should be addressed in a federal court.

Taking the case to federal court would give Meadows advantages, including a jury drawn from a broader geographic area with moderately greater support for Trump. But in September, a federal judge sided with prosecutors, writing that Meadows' conduct, as described in the indictment, “was unrelated to his role as White House chief of staff or his authority in the executive power”.

Meadows appealed that decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the three-judge panel, made up of two Democratic-appointed judges and one Republican-appointed judge, peppered attorneys with questions Friday in an ornate courtroom in the city center. Atlanta.

In her questioning of Meadows' attorney, Judge Nancy Abudu, appointed by President Biden, said that Meadows' own testimony in August appeared to broadly define what actions were part of his official duties as chief of staff.

“The testimony that was given essentially provided no external limit on his duties,” Judge Abudu said. “So it's almost as if he could do anything, in that capacity, as long as he could say it was on behalf of the president.”

But Meadows' attorney, George J. Terwilliger III, responded that Meadows did not need to set those boundaries, but only needed to “establish a nexus” to his federal job duties. Terwilliger's argument centered on the idea that keeping the case in state court would be inappropriate because it would require a state judge to decide important issues related to federal law, such as what the role of White House chief of staff entails.

“That doesn't make sense,” Terwilliger said. “Those are federal issues that should be resolved in federal court.”

In addition to Judge Abudu, the panel included Chief Circuit Judge William Pryor, appointed by President George W. Bush, and Judge Robin Rosenbaum, appointed by President Barack Obama. The case concerns the concept of “removal,” which essentially means transferring a case from state to federal court; If the case were dismissed, Mr. Meadows would still face the same charges.

The case against Meadows arises from a lengthy investigation by Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, that led her to charge 19 people, including Trump, with extortion and other charges related to their attempts to retain Trump. . In power. Four of those defendants have reached plea deals with Willis' office, and four others besides Meadows are trying to have their cases moved to federal court, including Jeffrey Clark, a former high-ranking official. of the Department of Justice. Meadows, Trump and Clark have pleaded not guilty.

To take their case to federal court, Mr. Meadows' lawyers must show that his actions, as alleged in the indictment, were within the scope of his job duties as chief of staff, and that Mr. Meadows still counts as federal official even though he no longer holds that position.

Lawyers in Willis' office have argued that Meadows was taking political actions in service of Trump's re-election campaign, rather than operating in his role as chief of staff. Donald Wakeford, a top prosecutor in Willis' office, also argued Friday that Meadows no longer has the ability to take his case to federal court because he is no longer a federal official.

The justices posed several hypotheses to Mr. Wakeford about whether that interpretation could allow states to impeach unpopular federal officials soon after they leave office. Wakeford argued that, regardless of such concerns, the relevant federal law does not indicate that former federal officials can move their cases out of state courts.

Among the criminal acts alleged in the indictment against Meadows is a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia's secretary of state, in which Trump said he wanted to “find” nearly 12,000 more voters than Trump, enough to reverse his defeat. Meadows testified in August that Trump had ordered him to schedule that phone call.

In December 2020, Meadows also made a surprise visit to Cobb County, Georgia, accompanied by Secret Service agents, intending to view an audit being conducted there. Local officials refused to allow him to do so because it was not open to the public.

Regardless of what the appeals court decides, lawyers for either side could ask the Supreme Court to take up the case, potentially embroiling the nation's highest court in a contentious political case during an election year.

The challenge facing Mr. Meadows was summarized by Judge Rosenbaum. “According to him, it seems that everything was within his official duties,” he said during the procedure. “And that simply cannot be right.”

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