A judge on Friday denied former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows' bid to move the Georgia criminal case against him to federal court, ruling that his alleged involvement in efforts to pressure state leaders to overturn the 2020 election results was not part of his official duties as a government official.
U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones issued the ruling after holding a hearing on the matter in Atlanta federal court last week that included five hours of testimony from Meadows, who, along with former President Donald Trump was charged last month in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ sweeping election interference case.
"The Court concludes that Meadows has not shown that the actions that triggered the State’s prosecution related to his federal office," Jones wrote, adding, "Meadows’ alleged association with post-election activities was not related to his role as White House Chief of Staff or his executive branch authority."
State prosecutors, Jones said, had “put forth evidence that at various points during the time of the alleged conspiracy Meadows worked with the Trump campaign, which he admitted was outside of the role of the White House Chief of Staff."
"In light of the State’s evidence that Meadows undertook actions on behalf of the campaign during the time period of the alleged conspiracy, Meadows was required to come forward with competent proof of his factual contention that his actions involving challenges to the outcome of the Georgia’s Presidential election results were within his role as Chief of Staff. His efforts fall short,” the judge wrote.
Meadows later notified the court that he would appeal the ruling. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday night.
To date, five of the 19 defendants in the DA's case have moved to have their case heard in federal court. In a court filing this week, Trump said he might move to do so as well. Under court-ordered deadlines, he has until the end of this month to decide, according to the filing.
Jones said in Friday's ruling that his decision "does not, at this time, have any effect on the outcome of the other co-Defendants who have filed notices of removal."
The indictment in Fulton County alleges Trump, Meadows and the 17 others engaged in schemes aimed at subverting the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia, a 2020 battleground state that was won by Joe Biden.
Meadows is charged with violation of Georgia's anti-racketeering law and solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer for his involvement in Trump's Jan. 2, 2021, call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking him to "find" the exact number of votes needed to defeat Biden. He's pleaded not guilty.
Meadows’ lawyers argued that the charges all pertain to official actions he took while he worked for the president, and the case should therefore be heard in federal court, where he could assert additional defenses, including immunity from the criminal charges.
“Mr. Meadows has the right to remove this matter. The conduct giving rise to the charges in the indictment all occurred during his tenure and as part of his service as Chief of Staff,” Meadows’ lawyers wrote in a 14-page filing.
The DA's office countered that White House officials shouldn't be involved in political campaigns. “Federal law prohibits employees of the executive branch from engaging in political activity in the course of their work,” they noted, pointing to the Hatch Act, a law that Meadows once told Politico “nobody outside of the Beltway really cares” about.
The law “bars a federal employee from ‘us[ing] his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election’” — exactly the conduct Meadows is charged with, prosecutors noted.
In his ruling, Jones agreed that "engaging in political activities exceeds the outer limits of the Office of the White House Chief of Staff.” He also declined to consider Meadows' immunity claim, since he found he was acting outside the scope of his duties.
The judge further noted that the purpose of the removal stature is to prevent interference with federal functions, and said that's not what's happened in this case.
"Assuming jurisdiction over this criminal prosecution would frustrate the purpose of federal officer removal when the state charges allege—not state interference with constitutionally protected federal activities, but federal interference with constitutionally protected state actions," Jones wrote.