Mark Meadows testified in court to have his criminal case moved to federal court, arguing that his actions as Chief of Staff were official duties. Prosecutors argue otherwise. A critical analysis from Amee Vanderpool.
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Published:August 30, 2023
*Published with the generous permission of Amee Vanderpool. Read all of her excellent work at Shero.
By Amee Vanderpool
Former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows shocked many by testifying in federal court on Monday. Meadows is trying to remove his case to federal court, because the jury pool will be drawn from several counties statewide, rather than just Fulton County. He would also be able to invoke an argument of “Executive Privilege” in this venue, which might justify some of his actions surrounding January 6. Cameras are typically forbidden in federal court, which is another draw for a defendant who wants to limit embarrassing publicity.
This type of federal trial would circumvent many more personal indignities to Meadows, and would give him much better odds of overcoming a criminal conviction altogether. The need for Meadows to succeed in convincing a judge that his case should be tried in federal court is so substantial, that Meadows took the stand in his own defense to explain why he thinks he is entitled to immunity from state prosecution under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
The Fulton County indictment accuses Mark Meadows of participating in an illegal conspiracy to overturn then-President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss. Despite the many risks involved in a defendant taking the stand to testify, it is likely that Mark Meadows fully understood that the only person who could explain his actions in a way that might convince a federal court judge would be Meadows himself.
Meadows took a calculated risk that his testimony was the only way to meet hisburden of proof that he had been acting as a federal officer. Meadows and his legal team clearly believe that moving his case to federal court is so critical it’s worth the risk of being cross-examined. This also likely means that he was unable to find anyone, with firsthand knowledge of his activities and directives, to take the stand for him.
The extraordinary testimony took five hours total, and Meadows was the only witness to testify in his behalf. Meadows was asked to describe his duties as Trump’s Chief of Staff, while his attorney walked him through the acts alleged in the indictment to ask if he had done those as part of his job. For most of the acts listed, Meadows said he had performed them as part of his official duties. Meadows testified that he didn’t believe he did anything that was “outside my scope as chief of staff.”
At times, Meadows struggled to remember details of the events that unfolded over about two months following the election. But he remained upbeat, indulging in self-deprecation with a quip about how he sometimes forgets to take out the trash, smiling frequently and laughing at the judge’s jokes. We will have to see if that approach works.
“There was a political component to everything that we did,” testified Meadows, referring to his actions during the final weeks of the Trump administration while he tried to marry the political obligations with professional duties. He also testified that his duties involved sitting in on nearly all of Trump’s meetings, which he would help arrange with various states and agencies. “Those were challenging times, bluntly,” said Meadows, testifying about his time as Trump’s chief of staff during the pandemic and through the 2020 election, “I don’t know if anyone was fully prepared for that type of job.” According to the indictment, Meadows arranged the infamous call between Trump and Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, where the former president asked Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to block Biden’s victory. On Monday, Meadows testified that Trump had instructed him to set up the call.
Meadows also denied two of the allegations made against him in the Fulton County indictment testifying that he never asked White House personnel officer John McEntee to draft a memo to Vice President Mike Pence on how to delay certification of the election. “When this came out in the indictment, it was the biggest surprise for me,” Meadows said. He later said, “Me asking Johnny McEntee for this kind of a memo just didn’t happen.”
Meadows further contends that he did not text the Georgia Secretary of State’s Chief Investigator, Frances Watson, as the indictment alleged. Rather, he said, he believes that text was sent to Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs.
In the Fulton County indictment, Meadows is accused of instructing a White House aide to draft a strategy memo for “disrupting and delaying” the electoral certification process on 6 January 2021. On Monday, Meadows denied doing that, calling it the “biggest surprise,” during his testimony in federal court.
During the cross-examination of Mark Meadows, prosecutor Anna Cross methodically went through the same acts Meadows had earlier described to ask what federal policy was being advanced in each of them. He said repeatedly that the federal interest was in ensuring accurate and fair elections, but she accused him several times of not answering her question. Former Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was subpoenaed for his testimony by Fani Willis in Fulton County, also testified during the Monday hearing. When prosecutors asked Raffensperger about the federal government’s role in certifying elections, he testified that it has “none.”
Raffensperger, who was on the stand for more than an hour, also testified Trump “lost the election” and that his “outreach to that extent was extraordinary”, referring to the January 2, 2021 phone call Meadows arranged. Kurt Hilbert, a Trump Campaign Attorney, also took the stand Monday and testified the purpose of the Raffensberger call was to discuss the campaign, which directly challenged Meadows’ claim he acted as a federal official.
Prosecutor Donald Wakeford told the judge during his closing argument that the law that allows a case to be moved from a state court to federal court is meant to protect federal authority. But he argued that there is no federal authority to protect in this case because Meadows’ actions were explicitly political and meant to keep Trump in power, making them illegal under the Hatch Act, which restricts partisan political activity by federal employees.
Meadows’ attorney closed by arguing that the state cannot use an indictment to affect what a chief of staff does in his job, saying even a mistake on Meadows’ part wouldn’t be grounds to keep from moving the case to federal court “unless it was malicious and done willfully.”
Moments before Meadows’ federal court hearing, Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the Fulton county election interference case, said all 19 defendants would be arraigned on 6 September in 15-minute increments. Meadows is set to be arraigned at 10.30am local time, following Trump, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Sidney Powell.
Three other defendants have filed similar motions to remove their cases from Fulton County to federal court. Jeffrey Clark, a former justice department official, along with Georgia fake electors David Shafer, Shawn Still and Cathy Latham,are each seeking to move their cases to federal court. Donald Trump is also expected to file a similar legal request in the coming weeks.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat on Mark Meadows: "The former GOP Congressman entered Trump's inner circle already mildly corrupt, refused his leader nothing, and exited as an accomplice to the greatest political crimes of modern American history."