Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ bid to move Georgia state criminal charges tied to the alleged effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election to a federal court faced a skeptical federal appeals court Friday.
Meadows is asking a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to overturn a federal district judge’s ruling that the case should remain in state court, where Meadows, former President Donald Trump and more than a dozen others face charges connected to the effort to overturn the election.
Meadows argued the actions laid out in the indictment, including helping Trump coordinate communications with state officials to overturn election results, fell within his official duties and federal law mandates the case proceed in federal court.
“The overt acts that are listed in the indictment are acts taken in the West Wing of the White House by the highest appointed White House official,” Meadows’ attorney, George Terwilliger, said at oral arguments Friday.
That met skepticism from the three judges, with Chief Judge William Pryor Jr. pushing Terwilliger to explain why the statute should apply to former federal officials the same way it does current ones.
“Congress could rationally assume that there’s a heightened reason for removal because you’re dealing with a current officer,” Pryor said.
Terwilliger argued that applying the statute only to current officials could have a chilling effect for people contemplating government service if they may later be charged for official acts while in office.
Judge Robin Rosenbaum said she couldn’t see any limit to Meadows’ official acts based on Terwilliger’s argument. Meadows testified about his official duties in the White House before the federal district judge in the case.
“According to him, it seems like everything is in his official duties, and that just cannot be right,” Rosenbaum said, referring to that testimony.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is arguing that Meadows’ actions fell outside his official duties as chief of staff and he should face charges in state court. Francis McDonald Wakeford IV, arguing for Willis on Friday, said Meadows had to show he was taking official actions in the instances laid out in the indictment, something he failed to do.
“There was a failure by the appellant to provide a factual basis that demonstrated how, not only he was enforcing federal law but how he was even taking actions under color of law,” Wakeford said.
Rosenbaum pushed Wakeford at one point about concerns that Willis’ position on the statute could “chill” officials from taking actions in office for fear of state charges. Wakeford said that to the extent that may be a problem, it was one for Congress to fix, not the courts.
The case stems from Meadows’ appeal of a decision from U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones of the Northern District of Georgia earlier this year. Jones ruled that Meadows wasn’t acting in his role as White House chief of staff when he participated in Trump’s attempt to overturn the election result.
“The evidence adduced at the hearing establishes that the actions at the heart of the State’s charges against Meadows were taken on behalf of the Trump campaign with an ultimate goal of affecting state election activities and procedures,” Jones wrote.
Meadows was indicted on two charges; conspiracy and solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer.
Meadows, a former member of Congress and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, was Trump’s last chief of staff, from March 2020 through the end of the term.
The indictment said Meadows started helping Trump’s conspiracy in November 2020, when Meadows participated in a White House meeting with a Michigan state House member at which the president discussed false claims of fraud. Through the rest of the year, Meadows coordinated Trump’s communications with state officials trying to overturn election results and the plans to disrupt the Jan. 6, 2021, electoral college count in the Capitol, the indictment said.
Meadows also attempted to enter an election audit facility in Cobb County, Ga., on Dec. 22, 2020, the indictment alleged, but was stopped by election officials.
The indictment said Meadows participated in a Jan. 2, 2021, call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger at which Trump exhorted the election official to “find” enough votes to overturn the result in Georgia.