A federal appeals court appeared skeptical of former Donald Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ attempt to move his Georgia election interference criminal case to federal court during a hearing Friday morning.
Meadows attorney George Terwilliger argued that he should be protected because the Fulton County racketeering charges against him stem from his time in the White House and therefore were part of his role as a federal official. Moving the case to federal court could let Meadows get the charges dismissed altogether by invoking federal immunity extended to certain individuals who are prosecuted or sued for conduct tied to their US government roles.
“What the prosecution here is for, by the record in this case and by the overt acts that are listed in the indictment, are acts taken in the west wing of the White House, by the highest appointed White House official,” Terwilliger argued.
Judge Robin Rosenbaum, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, raised a major issue with that argument.
“According to him it seems like everything was within his official duties, and that just cannot be right,” Rosenbaum said.
Chief Judge William Pryor, appointed by former President George W. Bush, also expressed skepticism as to whether the removal statute applies to former federal officers who are accused of state crimes.
“The vast majority of the cases that deal with this are dealing with current officers,” Pryor said, “and it might well be that Congress could rationally assume that there’s a heightened reason for removal where you’re dealing with the current officer because it involved ongoing operations of the federal government.”
But all three of the appellate judges appeared concerned about whether keeping the Meadows Fulton County case in state court could cause a “chilling effect” on future federal officials who run for federal office.
There was no ruling on Friday, and it is unclear when the panel will rule. Both sides will have the option to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Previously, US District Judge Steve Jones, an Obama appointee, found that his alleged actions in the sprawling Fulton County indictment weren’t part of his federal responsibilities.
“This is a case where there is no federal authority to protect,” Donald Wakeford, representing the Fulton County District Attorney’s office said in court.
Meadows was charged by Fulton County prosecutors in August and accused of violating Georgia’s RICO law, while also trying to solicit Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to violate his oath of office. The charges concern a heated phone call where Meadows and Trump pressed Raffensperger to overturn the 2020 election results. Meadows has pleaded not guilty.
Fifteen defendants remain in the sprawling racketeering case. So far, four of Trump’s co-defendants – including three of his former attorneys – have already cut deals with prosecutors to plead guilty and testify in the case.
Fulton County prosecutors want the trial of Trump, Meadows, and all the other remaining co-defendants to begin in early August 2024, which could potentially be directly in the middle of his presidential election campaign if he wins the Republican nomination.
Ultimately, it’s up to Superior Court of Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee to set a trial date.