A federal judge has rejected former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’s attempt to move his charges in the Georgia election interference case to federal court.
The ruling was a broad rejection of arguments from Meadows that his case should be heard in federal court because he was acting in his capacity as chief of staff at the time.
It marks a major victory for Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani Willis (D), who has pushed back on the attempt by Meadows and multiple other defendants to move their charges out of state court.
In a 49-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled that many of the allegations were instead political activities outside of the scope of Meadows’s job.
“Even under the ‘quite low’ bar for federal officer removal, the Court concludes that Meadows has not met his burden to show that his criminal prosecution can be removed under the federal officer removal statute,” Jones ruled.
Meadows filed an appeal of the ruling to the 11th circuit just hours after Jones’s decision.
He was charged last month with two counts in Fulton County, both as part of a sweeping racketeering case brought against all 19 defendants along with another charge related to his participation in a call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) in which former President Trump asked the state official to “find” additional votes for him.
Meadows pleaded not guilty.
Unless he successfully appeals Friday’s ruling, the decision will require him to defend himself in state court.
An attorney for Meadows did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Moving to federal court would have expanded the jury pool to areas beyond the heavily Democratic Fulton County, which includes Atlanta. It also would have likely prevented Meadows’s trial from being televised.
Meadows had also filed the request to attempt to assert constitutional immunity from the charges.
Though Jones cautioned that his ruling “does not, at this time, have any effect on” the other co-defendants who are still trying to move their charges, their arguments have significant overlap.
Jones will soon rule on similar requests from former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and three pro-Trump individuals charged with signing documents purporting to be Georgia’s valid electors.
Trump’s attorney has suggested the former president may soon mount such an attempt as well.
The ruling was a swift rejection of Meadows’s effort to remove the case, which was filed shortly after he was charged alongside Trump and 17 others in the Georgia case.
In the mid-August filing, attorneys for Meadows argued that his actions were not only all legal but simply a part of his job.
“Nothing Mr. Meadows is alleged in the indictment to have done is criminal per se: arranging Oval Office meetings, contacting state officials on the President’s behalf, visiting a state government building, and setting up a phone call for the President. One would expect a Chief of Staff to the President of the United States to do these sorts of things,” the filing states.
“This is precisely the kind of state interference in a federal official’s duties that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits.”
Jones countered that in his ruling, suggesting such activities would typically be handled by a campaign and that political activity falls outside the bounds for a chief of staff.
“The Court finds that the color of the Office of the White House Chief of Staff did not include working with or working for the Trump campaign, except for simply coordinating the President’s schedule, traveling with the President to his campaign events, and redirecting communications to the campaign,” he wrote.
“Thus, consistent with his testimony and the federal statutes and regulations, engaging in political activities is exceeds [sic] the outer limits of the Office of the White House Chief of Staff.”
The legal battle in the case was a remarkable one, with Meadows taking the stand and Willis calling Raffensperger, who rejected the former chief’s claims he was acting within the scope of his role.
“Outreach to this extent was extraordinary,” Raffensperger said at the hearing.
The judge on Friday noted that Willis’s use of racketeering charges presented a “novel question” in deciding which court was proper. Rather than charging Meadows over a specific action, Willis accused him of entering a months-long criminal conspiracy to keep Trump in power.
Jones found only one of eight overt acts attributed to Meadows in the indictment could possibly have been within the scope of his job: a text Meadows allegedly sent to Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) asking for Pennsylvania legislators’ contact information.
“The omission in the Indictment of the context Meadows sought this phone number, when coupled with the testimony that retrieving phone numbers for state officials was a routine part of his role as Chief of Staff, leaves the Court to conclude Overt Act 6 arguably occurred within the scope of Meadows’s duties as White House Chief of Staff,” Jones ruled.
—Updated at 6:41 p.m.