One morning last month, Mark Meadows, former President Donald J. Trump’s last chief of staff, sat in the front row in a federal courtroom in Atlanta. And he was the one who put himself there.
Mr. Meadows’ lawyer had taken the surprising step of asking his client to testify in an effort to have the Georgia election interference case against him moved to federal court, a place where his chances of acquittal, or even on dismissal of the case, may be small. a little better than in state court where he was charged.
At issue was whether his actions — as detailed in the indictment against Mr. Trump, Mr. Meadows and 17 others in Fulton County, Georgia, last month — could be considered within the scope of his duties as White House chief of staff. Mr. Meadows made the case under questioning by his lawyer, but he ran into a problem when a prosecutor asked whether he had “any role” in coordinating the fake voters used in a last-ditch effort to get Mr. Trump in hold. power after he lost the 2020 election.
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“No, I didn’t,” he replied.
The prosecutor then included in the file a December 2020 email that Mr. Meadows wrote to a Trump campaign official. In it, Mr. Meadows wrote: “We just need someone to coordinate the electors for the states.”
The altercation, which prosecutors will almost certainly use against Mr. Meadows at trial, underscored the high-stakes gamble he took by testifying. So far, the gamble has paid off: In early September, U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones declined to take his case to federal court.
Mr Meadows has appealed. But his testimony may have given ammunition to Georgia prosecutors as they prepare to try him, Mr. Trump and the 17 other defendants. Legal experts say Mr. Meadows may have damaged his credibility while weakening his claim to immunity from state prosecution as a federal official, given his struggle to articulate how the actions attributed to him in the indictment were previously part of his official duties rather than service. of the Trump campaign.
“He has done a number of things that will make prosecutors’ jobs easier,” Caren Morrison, a former federal prosecutor and associate professor of law at Georgia State University, said of Mr. Meadows’ testimony. “He’s created some additional problems for himself, I think, and for Trump as well.”
With an affable demeanor, Mr. Meadows was described by former White House aides as an unassertive chief of staff and as someone with a habit of telling people what they wanted to hear.
During the hearing in Atlanta, Mr. Meadows portrayed himself as an extremely busy man whose job in the White House often placed him at the intersection of policy and politics. While he acknowledged that he interacted with the Trump campaign for various reasons, such as resolving scheduling issues, he emphasized that he operated independently of it.
But Anna Cross, the prosecutor who questioned him, emphasized in a December 2020 email he sent to an official there that Mr. Meadows had specifically offered financial support from the Trump campaign to help with voter verification in Georgia. Why, she asked, had Mr. Meadows made such an offer “on behalf of the Trump campaign?”
Mr. Meadows said he was just trying to “speed things up,” explaining that it was virtually impossible to keep politics out of the White House chief of staff position. That may ultimately prove convincing to a jury. The role is undoubtedly unique; Former President Gerald Ford described the chief of staff as a “filter” and “alter ego” for a president whose own job involves combining the duties of governing and campaigning.
Mr. Meadows’ attorney, George J. Terwilliger III, declined to comment. In the lawsuits, Meadows’ legal team argues that he did nothing illegal, but rather was fulfilling his duties as the president’s right-hand man.
In fact, putting Mr Meadows on the witness stand at this stage might have provided certain advantages for his lawyers. “You get a little overview of where the state is going, and his attorney gets a preview of how he’s going to do on the stand,” said Noah H. Pines, an Atlanta-area criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. .
At the same time, Mr. Pines said, every word of Mr. Meadows’ testimony at trial can now be used against him.
Mr. Meadows said he went to Cobb County, Georgia, in December 2020 to observe an audit of signatures on ballots — one of the acts detailed in the indictment — because he was visiting the Atlanta area with his children for Christmas. He expected Trump to have questions about the proceedings, he said, so he visited in the spirit of “checking a box to say this is checked, that’s a question that’s been asked and answered.”
Mr. Meadows also tried to explain his role in Mr. Trump’s now-famous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state. During that phone call, Mr. Trump told Mr. Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes, one more than what he needed to win in Georgia.
Mr. Meadows, who organized the call, also spoke about it, saying he hoped the president’s team could “get access to the Secretary of State’s data” to investigate claims of voter fraud that Mr. Trump is on insisted.
The call to Mr. Raffensperger, he said at the recent hearing, was part of his effort to move closer to a “peaceful transfer of power” by “getting rid of some of Mr. Trump’s lingering concerns about voter fraud in Georgia.” to get”. care list.”
“It seemed like his claim was, ‘My job was to do whatever the president needed,’” said Melissa D. Redmon, a law professor at the University of Georgia and a prosecutor in Atlanta. “The problem is that this fits with the state’s theory that some of the things you did on behalf of the president were prohibited by your office, as an employee of the White House.”
Four other defendants charged along with Mr. Meadows and Mr. Trump are also seeking to have their cases moved to federal courts. Among them is Jeffrey Clark, a former senior Justice Department official, whose request was presented at a hearing on Monday. He declined to take the stand during the hearing and instead attempted to submit a written personal statement.
Mr. Clark, who is charged with one count of racketeering and one count of committing false statements and writings, drafted a letter to officials in Georgia in December 2020, falsely claiming that the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns” about ‘the outcome of the elections’. ” in Georgia and several other states.
His statement described that letter, which was never sent, as “a frank discussion of options and pros and cons with the President” that was part of a “privileged legal conversation.” It also said Mr Clark had never “knowingly taken false positions” during his time at the department.
But Judge Jones refused to include the statement in the record, allowing prosecutors to argue, among other things, that Mr. Clark’s legal team had not provided sufficient evidence as to why his case should be moved.
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