Mark Meadows argues Georgia election interference actions were official job duties
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows testified in federal court Monday that his role in an alleged criminal racketeering effort to overturn Georgia's 2020 election was covered under wide-ranging job responsibilities as a top presidential aide.
Meadows disputed some of the actions prosecutors allege he participated in during a two-month period following the presidential election — failing to directly answer if he believed Donald Trump lost Georgia's thrice-counted race — and argued nothing he did was "outside my scope as chief of staff."
The onetime congressman is accused of violating two statutes, Georgia's racketeering act and solicitation of violation of oath by public officer, stemming from the infamous call between Trump and Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger where the former president pushed Raffensperger to "find" votes to overturn the election.
Meadows took the unusual step of taking the stand and testifying for nearly four hours in a hearing seeking to remove his charges to federal court, as part of an opening legal salvo in a complex web of actions in the aftermath of the 19-defendant racketeering conspiracy case brought earlier this month.
Moving the case to federal court could lead to a slightly more conservative jury pool for a trial than than in Fulton County Superior Court, and for Meadows could also provide the opportunity to convince a judge to drop the charges because of federal immunity spelled out in the Constitution.
For much of the morning, Meadows' attorney George Terwilliger III asked him about his wide-ranging responsibilities as chief of staff and to shed more light on acts from the indictment where he was allegedly involved. Meadows questioned the accuracy of several acts and contextualized his involvement in others.
For example, Meadows said his role in a meeting between Trump, his lawyers and Pennsylvania legislators to discuss ways to overturn that state's election results was simply to inform some of them they tested positive for COVID and escorted them out of the meeting room.
Meadows expressed surprise at an "overt act" listed that alleges he asked White House personnel officer John McEntee to write a memo to Vice President Mike Pence outlining a plan to delay certification of Electoral College votes, and said that a text message that he allegedly sent to a top elections investigator asking if a signature audit could be sped up "if the Trump campaign assist financially" was actually to Georgia's deputy secretary of state.
As chief of staff, Meadows argued, most of his time was spent gatekeeping access to the president and staying on top of a variety of issues that Trump would seek advice on and that "there was a time where I felt like my phone number was plastered on every bathroom wall in America."
He argued Trump's phone call urging Georgia's secretary of state to "find" votes and overturn the election was convened to help address an issue that was "consuming the president's time and thoughts" and distracting from the final days of his administration and enacting a peaceful transfer of power.
During the hearing Meadows and another witness, Georgia attorney Kurt Hilbert, also seemed to suggest the call was intended as a settlement conference to resolve pending lawsuits against the state filed by Trump over Georgia's election results, but the state's lawyer in that case was not on the call. The campaign eventually dismissed all legal challenges after falsely claiming Georgia officials had agreed to give them sensitive voter data.
In order to remove the case to federal court, Meadows has to show that he was an officer of the United States, faces charges stemming from actions done under that office and raises a "colorable federal offense."
Prosecutors allege Meadows' varying efforts, such as showing up unannounced to a GBI-led audit of absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County, organizing a call between Trump and chief investigator Frances Watson, and the Trump-Raffensperger call were all done outside of his responsibilities as chief of staff and that there was no federal authority behind activities they argue were inherently political in nature.
Questioning also zeroed in on Meadows' use of "we" in phone calls, text messages and emails about activities related to Trump's re-election campaign and efforts to reverse his defeat, though Meadows claimed it was a deferential colloquialism and not indicative of any coordination or allegiance to the campaign.
Elsewhere in the hearing, Raffensperger testified his understanding of why Trump called him was displeasure with a TV interview where he shared data points of why the former president lost the election in Georgia and said the type of outreach was "extraordinary," but also did not believe Meadows' actions on the call were inappropriate.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones indicated there was little historical case law to review and noted that his ruling would likely set several precedents and did not give a timeline for a decision, adding that the state court-level proceedings brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis would continue while he deliberated.
Arraignment proceedings for the defendants are set for Wednesday, Sept. 6 and as of Tuesday morning one defendant, Ray Smith, already waived arraignment and entered a not guilty plea.