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Georgia judge rejects Trump bid to dismiss election interference charges on free speech grounds

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee found the "vital constitutional protections" cited by Trump and his co-defendants "do not reach the actions and statements alleged by the State."
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A Georgia judge on Thursday denied a bid by former President Donald Trump and his co-defendants in the state election interference case to dismiss the charges on First Amendment grounds.

In a 14-page ruling, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee said their right to protest the results of the 2020 presidential election did not protect them from the charges that District Attorney Fani Willis's office brought.

The "Court finds these vital constitutional protections do not reach the actions and statements alleged by the State," McAfee wrote, and their motions to dismiss are "therefore denied."

Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee
Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee on March 28 in Atlanta.Dennis Byron / AFP - Getty Images

Trump and his co-defendants, including his former lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, had argued the DA's prosecution "violates the First Amendment’s protections of political speech and activity, freedom of association, and the right to petition Congress as-applied to their alleged conduct, and further contend that the indicted charges are overbroad."

McAfee, however, found "the Defendants’ expressions and speech are alleged to have been made in furtherance of criminal activity and constitute false statements knowingly and willfully made in matters within a government agency’s jurisdiction which threaten to deceive and harm the government."

Trump lawyer Steve Sadow said in a statement that “President Trump and other defendants respectfully disagree with Judge McAfee’s order and will continue to evaluate their options regarding the First Amendment challenges."

McAfee noted in his ruling that during oral argument, "the Defendants posited that the speech at issue, even if false, was political and that one cannot be prosecuted for falsity alone."

The judge said that's not what prosecutors had done in this case, and pointed to allegations that the defendants tried to certify "alternate" presidential electors and knowingly made bogus claims in state proceedings and in court as part of an attempt to overturn the results of the state's election, which Joe Biden had won.

"The State has alleged more than mere expressions of a political nature. Rather, the indictment charges the Defendants with knowingly and willfully making false statements to public officers and knowingly and willfully filing documents containing false statements and misrepresentations within the jurisdiction of state departments and agencies," the judge wrote. 

Trump and 14 other defendants in the racketeering case have pleaded not guilty. No trial date has been set.