Judge on fence over Mark Meadows’ push for federal court in Georgia election case

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A federal judge Tuesday asked for legal briefs on a knotty issue in former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ high-stakes effort to get his election interference case moved out of Georgia state court.

U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones ordered both prosecutors and defense lawyers to offer opinions about whether Meadows is entitled to have his case heard in federal court if only any one of his accused actions fall within the scope of his responsibilities as a federal employee.

In another major legal development in the Georgia case, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis asked the state judge handling the case to keep the cases of Trump and all 18 co-defendants together.

Judge Scott McAfee has already set an Oct. 23 trial date for ex-Trump campaign lawyer Kenneth Chesebro after he asked for a speedy trial. Trump, on the other hand, wants his case delayed for as long as possible.

Noting that the judge has not yet agreed to sever the cases, Willis asked the judge to either set trial dates for all the defendants at the same time as Chesebro or hold a hearing on possibly severing his case.

Meadows took the witness stand for several hours Monday in an unusual and risky move as he seeks to get Jones to rule that he was acting as a federal employee when he allegedly helped former President Donald Trump overturn his 2020 election loss.

The former top Trump lieutenant insisted he was only doing his job and played merely a bureaucratic ministerial role when he arranged meetings and talked to Georgia officials at his boss’ behest.

Prosecutors grilled Meadows about his actions and statements that they claim prove he was an active participant in a criminal conspiracy to overturn the election when he pushed Trump’s campaign of lies.

Meadows is one of 18 co-defendants charged with Trump in a sprawling racketeering conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. Like others, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, and could not be pardoned by any governor or president.

Meadows apparently believes getting his case moved to federal court is important enough to risk answering questions under oath, something most defendants seek to avoid for fear of incriminating themselves.

Indeed, Meadows admitted playing a major role in some aspects of Trump’s efforts to overturn the former president’s loss in Georgia, like speaking during the infamous Jan. 2, 2021 call in which Trump demanded that Georgia officials “find” enough votes to let him overtake President Biden.

He also claimed under oath that he only visited a Georgia ballot signature verification effort because he happened to be visiting his children nearby.

Legal eagles were split over the significance of Jones’ request for briefs in the case, which covers uncharted legal ground.

The briefs are due by close of business Thursday, suggesting Jones doesn’t plan to issue any decision before then.

On one hand, the request suggests Jones may have decided that almost all of Meadows’ acts were not done “under the color” of his federal responsibilities. But it also hints the judge may agree with Meadows’ lawyers who have argued that the standard for removing the case to federal court is a very low bar.

If Meadows succeeds in getting his case heard in federal court, he would likely then push to have the case tossed out altogether under the Constitution’s so-called supremacy clause, which protects federal officials from state prosecution for acts within the scope of their official duties.

Trump is also expected to make a similar push to get his case moved to federal court, in part because the jury pool would be drawn from all of north Georgia and would be less heavily Democratic.

Any trials would still be handled by state prosecutors and covered by Georgia state law even if they are held in federal court.