Mark Meadows has asked a federal appeals court to suspend his Georgia trial on election racketeering charges while he argues he should be protected from the charges as Donald Trump’s former White House chief of staff. But prosecutors contend there is no need for delay because he is unlikely to win the argument.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could make a decision relatively quickly on whether to suspend the state case against Meadows because a trial for at least 19 of the co-defendants is scheduled Oct. 23.
The appeals court offered a hint of its initial reaction to Meadows’ request. The court asked prosecutors and defense lawyers to debate whether a former federal official is entitled to move a case to federal court or only a current federal official.
The stakes are high in the appeal because at least five of the co-defendants have asked to move their cases to federal court. Trump has said he might request a move, too.
How did the case wind up in a federal appeals court?
Meadows was indicted Aug. 14 with Donald Trump and 17 others for what he contends was part of his job, such as arranging phone calls and scheduling meetings. All have pleaded not guilty. Meadows asked to move his case to federal court and to have it dismissed there.
But U.S. District Judge Steve Jones rejected his request Friday, ruling his actions were admittedly political and that states have a constitutional responsibility to govern their own elections. Jones ruled Meadows’ actions went beyond “the outer limits of the Office of the White House Chief of Staff.”
On Wednesday, Jones refused to suspend the state case pending appeal.
“There is nothing in the summary of arguments he plans to raise in his challenge to the denial of removal to convince this Court that its decision was incorrect,” Jones wrote. “Thus, Meadows has shown no likelihood or prevailing on the merits of his appeal.”
Meanwhile, Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee scheduled a trial Oct. 23 for at least two of the co-defendants: lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell. Prosecutors sought to try all 19 people at that time, but McAfee hasn’t decided on that yet.
Prosecutors estimated a trial could last four months – not counting jury selection – with 150 witnesses.
What is Meadows arguing?
Meadows’ lawyers argued in their initial appeals filing Monday that Jones was mistaken in refusing to suspend his case. Meadows will suffer irreparable harm if he is tried, potentially convicted and jailed before the appeals court rules, his lawyers contend.
“The court below egregiously erred in rejecting removal,” Meadows’ lawyers said. “The court effectively created a ‘conspiracy’ exception to federal officer removal, and that was reversible error.”
What are prosecutors arguing?
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis argued Meadows was part of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election and his actions went beyond his official duties. She contends the case against Meadows can continue while the appeals court mulls its decision because any verdict is months away.
“He asks for relief from purely speculative injuries,” Willis wrote in one District Court filing. “And he cannot cite any pertinent public interest weighing in his favor, particularly when this Court has already found his arguments unpersuasive.”
All you need to know about the indictment’s accusations against Meadows
Meadows is charged with racketeering and with soliciting Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to violate his oath of office during a call Jan. 2, 2021, when Trump asked him to “find” enough votes to win the state.
As part of the broad racketeering charge that applies to all 19 defendants, the indictment lists 161 actions the defendants took that were allegedly each part of the conspiracy to overturn the election.
Some of the citations for Meadows included meeting with state lawmakers at the White House.
- On Nov. 20, 2020, Meadows attended an Oval Office meeting when Trump hosted with Michigan lawmakers, the indictment said.
- On Nov. 21, 2020, Meadows texted U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., asking for contact information for phone numbers of state legislative leaders for Trump to call, according to the indictment.
- On Nov. 25, 2020, Meadows met with Pennsylvania lawmakers at the White House, according to the indictment.
Other actions for Meadows sounded more overtly political.
- During December 2020, Meadows and Trump met with a political aide, John McEntee, and asked him to outline a strategy for Vice President Mike Pence to reject presidential electors from certain states, according to the indictment. Meadows denied Monday he made that request.
- On Dec. 22, 2020, Meadows traveled to the Cobb County Civic Center in Georgia, in an attempt to observe an audit of ballot signatures, according to the indictment. Local officials prevented him from entering. Meadows said Monday he was concerned about potential election fraud.
- On Dec. 23, 2020, Meadows arranged a call for Trump to ask Frances Watson, Raffensperger’s chief investigator, to falsely state he won the state “by hundreds of thousands of votes” and stated to Watson that “when the right answer comes out you’ll be praised,” according to the indictment.
- On Dec. 27, 2020, the indictment said Meadows texted Watson to ask if the signature verification could be speeded up if the Trump campaign paid for it, according to the indictment. Meadows testified that he thought the text went to a different recipient.
Meadows was maintaining awareness of matters before Trump and managing the president’s time, his lawyers said.
When will the appeals court make a decision?
The appeals court could rule within days on whether to temporarily suspend the state case against Meadows. He argued Monday a decision is urgent because the first trial was 42 days away.
If the appeals court hears full arguments about moving his case to federal court, Meadows proposed the filings and oral presentations happen this month. His lawyers proposed to file his written arguments Sept. 15, prosecutors on Sept. 22 and oral arguments on Sept. 25.