ATLANTA — Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows took the witness stand in federal court Monday in a bid to get the criminal case charging him with tampering with the 2020 presidential election results moved out of state court and, ultimately, dismissed.
Meadows spent more than three hours testifying, declaring that he took an extremely wide-ranging view of his responsibilities as chief of staff and saw that role as encompassing nearly all his actions prosecutors say amounted to corrupt pressure on Georgia officials.
If a federal judge agrees that Meadows’ actions plausibly fell within the scope of his federal duties, the case may get moved into federal court, and Meadows may be immune from the charges against him, which prosecutors brought under state law. Other defendants in the case, including Donald Trump himself, are expected to raise similar immunity arguments.
“It was a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week kind of job,” Meadows said during questioning by his lead attorney, George Terwilliger III. “It was a very broad responsibility. … I found myself on defense a lot with things coming at me from a million different directions.”
Meadows’ appearance was a gamble by his defense team, opening him to cross examination by the prosecution and locking him into a specific description of events in a way that will be difficult for him to vary from if the case goes to trial.
However, it gave Meadows a chance to try personally to persuade U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones that the charges brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis following a lengthy grand jury investigation intrude on fundamental federal responsibilities. Earlier this month, Willis charged Trump, Meadows and 17 other defendants with a sprawling “criminal enterprise” aimed at overturning the election in Georgia and other states.
The hearing Monday also gave prosecutors an opportunity to present some of their best evidence: an audio recording of the famous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call that features Trump pleading with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” nearly 12,000 votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Meadows participated in that call along with other Trump advisers.
Prosecutors called Raffensperger to the stand Monday afternoon and had him certify that the audio recording one of his deputies made of the hourlong call was accurate. Then, they played several clips from the recording in open court.
The recording was aired widely back in 2021, but as Trump’s voice played out in the federal courtroom Monday it was a vivid indication of the many urgent legal problems he faces, including the Georgia prosecution, a New York state criminal case and two federal criminal prosecutions.
“We have all the votes we need,” Trump could be heard saying. “I think we probably did win it [in Georgia] by half a million.”
Did Trump win Georgia by 500,000 votes or anything close to it, prosecutor Anna Cross asked Raffensperger.
“No. He did not,” the secretary of state said, before taking issue with nearly every assertion Trump and his allies made on the call — about underage voters, dead voters, felons, unregistered voters and more.
Prosecutors also played audio of Meadows telling Raffensperger that his office was off base when it said only two dead people were recorded as voting. “I promise you there are more than that,” Meadows insisted.
Raffensperger said Meadows was right, to a degree: Investigators ultimately found four people statewide who were deceased but were recorded as having cast ballots.
“You add all that up. None of it was able to come near the total of 11,779 votes needed to change the result,” Raffensperger, a Republican, said.
However, as Raffensperger testified for nearly an hour, it became clear there were limits to his usefulness for the prosecution’s case. During cross-examination, the secretary of state said that despite rebuffing a couple of earlier attempts by Meadows to contact him he didn’t consider what the Trump aide said on the call disturbing. “I didn’t think it was inappropriate,” Raffensperger said.
At the close of the hearing, Jones issued no immediate ruling and offered no particular timeline for a decision. He acknowledged that his ruling is likely to set precedent, and he warned that if he hasn’t ruled by the time of Meadows’ scheduled arraignment on Sept. 6, that event will have to take place as scheduled.
“It’s a very important case,” said the judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama. “I’ll rule as quick as possible.”
While Jones did not explicitly indicate that he was favoring one side or the other, the judge sounded skeptical that Meadows or Trump had a legitimate, official interest in Georgia’s election tally.
“Is there a role under Article II of the Constitution for the president in a state election or any election?” Jones asked during Meadows’ testimony.
“I don’t know enough to opine,” said Meadows, describing his responsibility as “to keep [Trump] well-informed and well-advised on a variety of issues.”
However, Meadows and his lawyers took an extraordinarily broad view of his chief-of-staff duties. They argued that any matter capable of distracting Trump or diverting his attention fell within the scope of those duties and should therefore be covered by a federal law that allows some state criminal cases against federal officials or former federal officials to be moved to federal court.
“He is federal operations,” Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger, told Jones during closing arguments at the day-long hearing, calling Meadows Trump’s “alter ego” and at one point arguing that the chief of staff’s official duties were even broader than Trump’s.
Prosecutor Donald Wakeford ridiculed that notion. “It is limitless. It has no horizon. It never ends,” he told Jones. “Everything [Meadows] does is within the scope of his duties.”
Monday’s hearing was one of the only times Meadows — a former Republican member of Congress and once a ubiquitous power player in Washington — has been heard from in a public forum since Jan. 6, 2021.
The hearing was set to continue Monday afternoon after a midday break. As part of her effort to resist Meadows’ efforts, Willis has teed up potential testimony from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who resisted pressure from Trump to “find” enough votes to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Meadows joined Trump on a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call in which Trump implored Raffensperger to reverse the results.
Willis also was prepared to call three other witnesses — one of Raffensperger’s election inspectors and two Trump-affiliated attorneys — in a lineup that might foreshadow much of the case Willis plans to make at trial, as well as potential defenses to her allegations.
Meadows insisted in his Monday morning testimony that all the actions he’s charged with in the indictment that he has a recollection of were part of his official duties as chief of staff — a claim that would require moving the charges against him into federal court. But Jones repeatedly pressed Meadows on what precisely he viewed as part of the president’s enumerated constitutional powers.
“Is there a role under Article II of the Constitution for the president in a state election or any election?” asked Jones, an appointee of President Barack Obama.
“I don’t know enough to opine,” said Meadows, describing his responsibility as one “to keep [Trump] well-informed and well-advised on a variety of issues.”
During cross-examination that at times grew chilly, prosecutor Anna Cross challenged Meadows to come up with any situation that he would view as outside of the scope of his job duties. The only one the former chief of staff offered was speaking at a campaign rally. He said generally that he thought the federal government had a legitimate interest in “accurate and fair elections,” and referred repeatedly to Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice involvement in promoting that goal.
Meadows took the stand shortly after 10 a.m., clad in a blue suit and striped blue tie. His testimony occurred at the same moment another former senior Trump White House aide, Peter Navarro, was testifying in a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C., on charges for defying a House Jan. 6 select committee subpoena for testimony. That simultaneous testimony underscores the pile-up of criminal cases facing Trump and those who once occupied his inner circle.
Attorneys for Trump himself were also in court in Washington, D.C. Monday morning, where a judge set a March 4 trial on federal charges that he tried to subvert the 2020 election — the same day Willis has eyed for the Georgia case.
Meadows is facing two charges in the Georgia case: racketeering and soliciting Raffensperger to violate his oath of office.
The indictment also references several acts Meadows took in “furtherance” of the alleged conspiracy, like arranging phone calls between Trump and state legislative leaders and offering campaign funds to help speed along Georgia’s recount process.
Jones’ decision will carry enormous significance for Willis’ broader case against Trump and the other defendants. Two of them — attorneys Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell — have invoked speedy trial rights under Georgia law, teeing up October trials.
Four other defendants have joined Meadows in seeking to move their cases to federal court. They include three GOP activists from Georgia who posed falsely as legitimate presidential electors as part of Trump’s bid to stay in power. The other, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, is slated for a similar evidentiary hearing on Sept. 18.
Source : POLITICO