Georgia courtroom battles begin Monday in next stage of Trump case

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Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani Willis (D) on Monday will have her first major courtroom faceoff after indicting former President Trump and 18 others in the Georgia election case.

At a Monday morning hearing in Atlanta, prosecutors are set to battle with attorneys for former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who wants to move his charges to federal court so he can assert immunity.

Although Monday’s hearing technically regards only Meadows, the proceeding could have implications for the other co-defendants.

If Meadows succeeds, Trump and the others could automatically go to federal court along with Meadows. Even if not, the same judge will soon consider similar removal requests from other defendants, and the judge on Monday could provide insights into his thinking on the issue.

The requests are also quickly complicating the case as Willis aims to begin a trial for all of the defendants on Oct. 23.

Prosecutors went all-in for the Meadows hearing by subpoenaing the testimony of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) and two other participants on an infamous phone call, in which Trump asked Raffensperger to help “find 11,780 votes.”

That call sparked the criminal case in which Meadows now faces two charges. He is the first of five co-defendants attempting to convince U.S. District Judge Steve Jones to move their charges to federal court, though Trump and others may follow.

A successful effort would widen the jury pool to less Democrat-heavy areas of Northern Georgia, have a federal judge oversee the proceedings and likely prevent a televised trial.

Meadows is hoping to make the jump so he never has a trial, however. He has already requested the federal court dismiss his charges upon taking over the case.

To switch courts, Meadows must show he was a federal officer, the allegations relate to an act taken “under color of such office” and he has a plausible federal defense.

The indictment lays out Meadows’s various meetings with state legislators in the wake of the election, his attempt to observe a signature match audit during a Georgia trip and two calls he set up between Georgia election officials and Trump, including the one with Raffensperger.

“These and the other acts that form the basis for the charges against Mr. Meadows all fall squarely within his conduct as Chief of Staff,” Meadows’s attorney wrote in court filings.

Willis’s office responded by subpoenaing the hearing participants on both calls.

Raffensperger and two uncharged Trump attorneys on the infamous Jan. 2, 2021, conversation — Alex Kaufman and Kurt Hilbert — are expected to testify, court filings show.

Willis also subpoenaed Frances Watson, an employee in Raffensperger’s office who was investigating alleged signature mismatches on election ballots. Watson had spoken to Trump a few days before Meadows made his Georgia visit and the two were connected. Willis’s office will use the witnesses to argue that Meadows’s conduct is illegal political activity. Meadows will also have to show that he can make a convincing federal defense if it is determined to be within the scope and authority of his job. Among other arguments, he contends the Constitution provides him immunity from the charges.

“This is precisely the kind of state interference in a federal official’s duties that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits, and that the removal statute shields against,” Meadows’s attorney wrote.

A group of eight prosecutors and federal officials, all of whom served in Republican administrations, filed a brief backing prosecutors in their opposition. The group includes J. Michael Luttig, a former federal appeals court judge who testified before the House’s Jan. 6 committee.

he purpose of the federal-officer removal statute–to protect federal operations by preventing retribution in state court for locally unpopular exercises of federal authority–would not be served by removal here,” they wrote.

“To the contrary, removal would be perverse, as this prosecution arises from interference with state-government operations and seeks to vindicate Georgia’s voice in a federal election, the very contest from which federal authority flows.”

Monday’s hearing could also impact the other co-defendants.

One open question is whether the other co-defendants’ charges will be automatically moved to federal court if the attempt succeeds.[T]Meadows has sought to separate himself from the other defendants and have his effort considered in isolation. Jeffrey Clark, another Trump Justice Department official, who is also trying to move the courts, has said that the relevant precedent requires defendants to move in concert. Clark’s hearing will be held on Sept. 18.

Trump may soon follow their example. Trump unsuccessfully tried to move his New York hush money criminal case to federal court earlier this year, though he is appealing that decision.

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