Donald Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows wants a judge to move the sweeping criminal case against him in Georgia to a federal court, marking the debut of the prosecutorial team that charged the former president and 18 of his allies for their alleged attempts to overturn 2020 election results in that state.
His testimony at a hearing in a federal courthouse on 28 August comes two weeks after a grand jury indictment under Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis presented the largest and most significant case yet facing Mr Trump and others connected to an alleged racketeering scheme in which they “knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election” to ensure he remained in power.
An attempt from Mr Meadows to move the state case into federal court is the first in a series of courtroom battles as attorneys spar with Georgia prosecutors over requests for a “prompt removal” of the case to a federal courtroom.
Mr Meadows faces two counts in the sprawling 41-count indictment outlining dozens of acts that encompass the conspiracy: one count of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO statute, and one count of solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer.
His legal team is citing federal law that allows US officials to remove civil or criminal trials from state court over alleged actions performed “under color” of their offices, with Mr Meadows performing such acts during his “tenure” as White House chief of staff.
His lawyers said they then intend to file a motion to dismiss the indictment “as soon as feasible,” according to court filings.
“Nothing Mr Meadows is alleged in the indictment to have done is criminal per se,” his attorneys wrote. “One would expect a Chief of Staff to the President of the United States to do these sorts of things.”
Prosecutors, however, have argued that Mr Meadows was acting on behalf of the Trump campaign, performing acts that were “all ‘unquestionably political’ in nature and therefore, by definition, outside the lawful scope of his authority” as chief of staff.
“Even if the defendant somehow had been acting as authorized under federal law (rather than directly contrary to it), that authority would be negated by the evidence of his ‘personal interest, malice, actual criminal intent,’” they wrote.
During the hearing on Monday, which was not broadcast, Mr Meadows himself argued that he was both a principal figure and an observer in meetings with and about Mr Trump, and was “invited to almost every meeting that the president had,” CNN reported.
Mr Meadows is one of five defendants in the Georgia case who want to transfer the case out of Fulton County.
Former assistant US Attorney General Jeffrey Clark and three people wrapped up in the so-called “alternate” elector scheme – David Shafer, Cathy Latham and state Senator Shawn Still – are also asking a judge to move the case to federal court. Mr Trump also is expected to do the same.
US District Court Judge Steve Jones, who was appointed to the bench by Barack Obama, is overseeing the hearing.
Ms Willis has subpoenaed Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to testify at the hearing; Mr Meadows joined a phone call from Mr Trump to Mr Raffensperger urging him to “find” then-President Trump enough votes to win the state after decisively losing to Joe Biden.
She also has subpoenaed his former lead investigator Frances Watson.
Mr Meadows met with Ms Watson in December 2020 during a state-run audit of absentee ballot signatures that Ms Watson was overseeing. Mr Trump called her the next day.
On 27 December 2020, Mr Meadows asked if “there was a way to speed up Fulton County signature verification in order to have results before Jan 6” if the Trump campaign can “assist financially”, which Ms Willis is likely to use to bolster prosecutors’ argument that Mr Meadows acted on behalf of the campaign, thus not immune from federal protections allowing his removal.
This is a developing story