Lawyers for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis are expected to clash Monday in federal court over whether his charges in Donald Trump’s election racketeering indictment should be moved to federal court from a county court in Georgia.
The hearing before U.S. District Judge Steve Jones could offer a preview of how two key witnesses will testify at trial. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his office’s chief investigator, Frances Watson, were subpoenaed to testify.
Meadows is charged with soliciting Raffensperger to violate his oath of office during Trump’s Jan. 2, 2021, call asking him to “find” votes to flip the election. The indictment says Meadows arranged a Trump call to Watson and asked in a text whether the Trump campaign could help pay for ballot certification to speed it up.
At least five of the 19 defendants in the case − Meadows, Jeffrey Clark and three of the alternate electors who supported Trump despite him losing the state − have asked Jones to move their cases from state to federal court by arguing they were federal officials doing their jobs at the time of the acts outlined in the indictment.
Clark was an assistant attorney general who drafted a letter misstating Justice Department findings about Georgia’s election. David Shafer, the Georgia Republican Party chairman, faces eight charges including for being an alternate elector and allegedly making false statements. Shawn Still, who is now a state senator, faces seven charges related to being an alternate elector. And Cathy Latham faces 11 charges related to being an alternate elector and for conspiracy to allegedly tamper with Coffee County election equipment.
The five co-defendants have each argued the Constitution protected them from state prosecution for carrying out their official duties. Meadows has also asked the federal court to dismiss his charges if the case is moved. But Jones refused to immediately move his case or block his arrest last week.
Here is what we know about the case:
What does the indictment say about Meadows?
The indictment cites several steps in addition to the Raffensperger call that Meadows took to try to overturn the election.
Meadows joined Trump in asking political aide John McEntee sometime during December 2020 to prepare a memo outlining the strategy for Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as Senate president, to reject electoral votes from certain states during the congressional count on Jan. 6, 2021, and returning them to state legislatures. Pence refused to participate.
Meadows visited the Cobb County Civic Center in Georgia on Dec. 22, 2020, seeking to observe the audit of ballot signatures being performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the secretary of state’s office. Local officials prevented him from viewing the audit, which was not open to the public.
The next day, Meadows arranged for Trump to call Watson and claim he won the state “by hundreds of thousands of votes,” according to the indictment. Trump told Watson that “when the right answer comes out you’ll be praised,” according to the indictment.
Meadows sent Watson a text on Dec. 27 asking if there was “a way to speed up Fulton county signature verification” if the Trump campaign provided financial assistance.
What is each side arguing about a move to federal court?
Meadows’ lawyers contend the Constitution’s supremacy clause protects federal officials from state-level charges while carrying out their duties of office. The lawyers cited a Supreme Court decision in 1890 about the provision that prohibited “suits under state law against federal officials carrying out their executive duties.”
Meadows’ lawyers also argued that the allegations in the indictment such as visiting a Cobb County vote-auditing site and setting up a presidential phone call aren’t illegal.
“The State’s prosecution of Mr. Meadows threatens the important federal interest in providing the President of the United States with close, confidential advice and assistance, firmly entrenched in federal law for nearly 100 years,” Meadows’ lawyers said in one filing.
But Willis called the request “meritless” and “futile.” She argued that Meadows acknowledged his activities cited in the indictment were political rather than official duties of his post.
“Having admitted that all of his pertinent activity is political, the defendant has acknowledged that all of the activity falls outside the scope of his duties and his ‘color of office’ because he could never, as Chief of Staff, engage in such political activity without violating a federal statute,” Willis wrote in her argument. “The defendant fails to satisfy the first requirement for removal because he has stated his actions are, by definition, of a type that can never be taken ‘under color of office,’ or even bear a ‘connection’ or ‘association’ to such office. The inquiry can end there.”
Meadows disputed that his actions were political − and said it wouldn’t matter if they were.
“While the state’s characterization of Mr. Meadows’s conduct and official duties are largely irrelevant at the removal stage, they are also wrong,” his lawyers George Terwilliger, John Moran and Michael Francisco said in a filing. “Neither the duties of the Chief of Staff nor the laws and Constitution of the United States draw a clean line between federal authority, on the one hand, and elections and politics, on the other.”
Jeffrey Clark, David Shafer, Shawn Still, Cathy Latham also asked to move cases
Besides the overall racketeering charge, Clark was charged with attempting to commit false statements for drafting a letter about Georgia’s election for the attorney general to sign and send. Clark’s lawyer, Harry MacDougald, called the accusations “scurrilous.”
Clark drafted the letter on Dec. 28, 2020, for acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to sign and send to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and legislative leaders. The letter falsely said the department “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia,” according to the indictment.
“For the first time in United States history, a former President of the United States has been charged with running a criminal organization,” MacDougald wrote in Clark’s filing. “This is wildly implausible on its face (whatever some ratings-hungry media pundits might posture), and as Mr. Clark and other defendants will show, the allegations that such an enterprise exists fail on numerous grounds.”
Shafer faces eight charges mostly dealing with fake electors, including allegedly impersonating a public official, forgery and making false statements.
Shafer argued that serving as a Republican presidential elector chosen in March 2020, he was a federal official acting in his official capacity. He seeks to present several federal defenses to his actions, including official immunity, supremacy clause immunity and the First Amendment.
“Neither the state of Georgia nor any of its localities has the authority to prosecute Mr. Shafer for these actions, and this Court should exercise its clear authority to correct this injustice and halt this unlawful and unconstitutional attempted prosecution now,” his lawyers Craig Gillen and Holly Pierson wrote.
Still described himself as the owner of his family’s pool construction business in the Atlanta area who was chosen as a Republican presidential elector in March 2020, months before the election. Still said he relied on lawyers who told him to meet with Shafer and other alternate electors in case Trump’s legal challenges were upheld in court.
“Thus, Mr. Still, acting as a presidential elector, was a federal officer,” his lawyer, Thomas Bever, said in a court filing. “Mr. Still, as a presidential elector, was also acting at the direction of the incumbent President of the United States.”
Latham was another alternate elector who is also charged with several conspiracy counts dealing with the alleged tampering with Coffee County election equipment. She also argued her post as elector protected her from local prosecution.
“The purpose of the statute is to protect federal officers from interference by hostile state courts, and to provide a federal forum where the officers must raise defenses arising from their official duties, and where they can receive a fair trial on the merits free from local interests or prejudice,” her lawyer, William Cromwell, wrote in a court filing.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mark Meadows, Georgia DA to clash over moving charges in Trump case