Former Trump aide Meadows appeals loss in court to 11th Circuit

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Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is appealing a federal judge’s refusal to hear state racketeering charges in federal court.

The appeal comes after former President Donald Trump, Mr. Meadows, and 17 co-defendants were indicted by a state grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, on Aug. 14 over the former chief executive’s challenge to the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat who initiated the racketeering prosecution, wants to try all the co-defendants together in state court, but a state judge ordered that one of the co-defendants go to trial on Oct. 23.

Mr. Meadows and all the defendants in the case are accused of violating the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act from Nov. 4, 2020, which is the day after the presidential election, to Sept. 15, 2022. The indictment states that the defendants “unlawfully conspired and endeavored to conduct and participate in, directly and indirectly, such [illegal] enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.”

Mr. Meadows is arguing he was immune from state prosecution under the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which elevates federal law over state law. In other words, Mr. Meadows claims he cannot be prosecuted in state court because whatever he did, it was done in his official capacity as a federal officer, and he had federal defenses available to him.

Several co-defendants have also filed notices of removal with the same federal judge. President Trump himself filed a notice with the court on Sept. 7 indicating that he too may seek removal to federal court.

The latest ruling by federal Judge Steve C. Jones of the Northern District of Georgia may suggest he is not inclined to grant the other removal motions, either.

The case has been watched closely because this is the first time that substantive arguments have been made in court in any of the four criminal cases that have been brought against President Trump and his fellow defendants this year.

Some liken the motion for so-called removal to federal court to a mini-trial for President Trump and his co-defendants and speculate that the treatment Mr. Meadows receives in federal court will be a bellwether for how the various Trump-related prosecutions will proceed.

Mr. Meadows’s new notice of appeal directed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit was docketed the evening of Sept. 8, just hours after Judge Jones sent the case back to Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta because he lacked jurisdiction in the matter. Judge Jones was appointed in 2011 by President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

The notice does not lay out Mr. Meadows’s arguments in the appeal.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has a reputation as a conservative court. Emergency applications arising out of the circuit court’s decisions would be directed to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, that court’s leading conservative, who oversees the 11th Circuit.

In a 49-page order, Judge Jones wrote that he was addressing the “relatively narrow question” of whether Mr. Meadows had “carried his burden of demonstrating that removal of the State of Georgia’s criminal prosecution against him is proper under the federal officer removal statute.”

“Having considered the arguments and evidence, the Court concludes that Meadows has not met his burden. Therefore, the Court declines to assume jurisdiction over the State’s criminal prosecution of Meadows … and remands the case to Fulton County Superior Court.”

The decision came after the judge asked the defense and state prosecutors to provide a post-hearing briefing as to whether he could hear the case in federal court if he found a single overt act Mr. Meadows committed was protected by federal law. Eight overt acts were attributed to Mr. Meadows in the indictment.

In his ruling, Judge Jones wrote that some of the overt acts Mr. Meadows is accused of in the indictment were within the scope of his duties as a federal officer, but other acts were not.

“Because the inquiry hinges on whether Meadows’s association with the conspiracy related to the color of his office, however, jurisdiction is not conferred simply because a single overt act relates to Meadows’s federal office. After all, the Indictment alleges a series of associative acts spanning over a year, and the overt acts attributed to Meadows span three months,” the judge wrote.

“Undoubtedly, during that time Meadows performed actions for or that related to the color of his office. But the relevant inquiry is what activities go [to] the heart of Meadows’s participation in the enterprise and whether those activities relate to the scope of his federal office. If they do not, then Meadows cannot satisfy his burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction under the federal officer removal statute,” he wrote.

The court found that Mr. Meadows’s “political activities,” such as “working with or working for the Trump campaign” exceeded “the outer limits of the Office of the White House Chief of Staff.”

Judge Jones also seemed concerned that “when questioned about the scope of his authority, Meadows was unable to explain the limits of his authority.”

Because the “procedures States utilize to conduct elections and ensure results are not part of the executive branch’s role or power … Meadows cannot have acted in his role as a federal officer with respect to any efforts to influence, interfere with, disrupt, oversee, or change state elections: those activities are expressly delegated to the States.”

Prosecutors have focused on what was said in a Jan. 2, 2021, telephone conversation between President Trump and Georgia’s secretary of state, in which they discussed, among other things, the vote count in the state and what options the two officials had available to them. Prosecutors say President Trump and others unlawfully attempted to interfere in the electoral process, an accusation he adamantly denies.

Judge Jones found that the telephone call, which Mr. Meadows had a role in, “was made regarding private litigation brought by [the] President and his campaign against the State of Georgia. It was therefore outside Meadows’s federal role as an executive branch officer.”

The judge concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to establish that the gravamen, or a heavy majority of overt acts alleged against Meadows relate to his role as White House Chief of Staff.”

He added, “The State has 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.”

The Epoch Times reached out for comment to Mr. Meadows’s lead attorney in the case, George J. Terwilliger III, who works for the law firm of McGuire Woods in Washington, but had not received a reply at the time of publication.

The Epoch Times also asked District Attorney Willis’s office to comment. Jeff DiSantis, deputy district attorney in the media relations division, had not responded as of press time.

But law professor Jonathan Turley wrote on X that while Judge Jones confronted “a tough question with limited case law, I think the court is wrong that Meadows did not present a colorable claim on some of these issues.”

“There is an ample basis to question the court’s interpretation of the standard as applied to this case,” Mr. Turley wrote.

“My problem is that the Chief of Staff is something of a Jack of all trades with a broad portfolio from scheduling to fact finding to lobbying. … Given the wide array of acts and comments covered in this sweeping racketeering case, I find it hard to dismiss them in their entirety for possible removal.”

Judge Jones’s order also came after the judge held a hearing on Aug. 28 at which he heard several hours of testimony from witnesses, including Mr. Meadows and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Sept. 10, 2023, in The Epoch Times.