A federal judge on Friday rejected former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ bid to move his Georgia criminal case to federal court, a significant setback for Meadows and a troubling sign for former President Donald Trump.
The ruling against Meadows has significant implications for the former president and his 18 co-defendants in the Fulton County district attorney’s sprawling racketeering case. Meadows was the first of five defendants who already filed motions to move the case to federal court – and Trump is expected to do so, too.
Meadows unsuccessfully argued that his case, now playing out in Georgia state court, should be moved because the allegations in the indictment were connected to his official duties as White House chief of staff. His lawyers wanted the case in federal court so they could try to get it dismissed altogether, invoking federal immunity extended to certain individuals who are prosecuted or sued for conduct tied to their US government roles.
The judge’s decision could now set the tone for the other defendants also trying to move their cases. It’s an ominous sign for the other defendants who are hoping to invoke the same federal immunity protections.
US District Court Judge Steve Jones wrote in the decision that Meadows had not met even the “‘quite low’ threshold for removal” to federal court, because his activities for the Trump campaign were outside the scope of his federal role as White House chief of staff.
“The Court finds that the color of the Office of the White House Chief of Staff did not include working with or working for the Trump campaign, except for simply coordinating the President’s schedule, traveling with the President to his campaign events, and redirecting communications to the campaign,” Jones wrote. “Thus, consistent with his testimony and the federal statutes and regulations, engaging in political activities is exceeds the outer limits of the Office of the White House Chief of Staff.”
The Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from engaging in political activity as part of their official duties, was “helpful in defining the outer limits of the scope the White House Chief of Staff’s authority,” the judge said.
“These prohibitions on executive branch employees (including the White House Chief of Staff) reinforce the Court’s conclusion that Meadows has not shown how his actions relate to the scope of his federal executive branch office. Federal officer removal is thereby inapposite,” the judge wrote in the decision.
The ruling is also a personal blow to Meadows, who took a significant risk by testifying at a recent hearing about the removal bid, where he was questioned under oath by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ team. Prosecutors could potentially use his testimony against him in future proceedings.
After the charges against Trump and his 18 co-defendants were filed, the former president’s lawyers signaled they intended to try to move Trump’s case to federal court, just as Trump had unsuccessfully sought to do in his New York criminal case.
Trump has 30 days from the time he entered his not guilty plea to file to move his case.
CNN has reached out to lawyers for Meadows and Trump for comment.
In addition to Meadows, Jeffrey Clark, the former Trump administration DOJ official, and three Georgia GOP officials who served as Trump’s fake electors have also filed to move their cases to federal court. Former Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer and former GOP Coffee County Chairwoman Cathy Latham have a joint hearing scheduled on September 20, while the third fake elector seeking federal removal – Shawn Still, a Georgia state senator – has a hearing on September 18.
While Meadows’ motion was rejected, Shafer, Still and Latham have made a slightly different argument: They say they acted as fake electors at Trump’s direction. But unlike Meadows, who worked in the White House in 2020, the fake electors have a more tenuous link to the federal government, as nominees to serve as real electors for Trump if he won Georgia, who would’ve participated in the federally mandated Electoral College process.
There are several reasons why it would be advantageous for Meadows and the other defendants to move their cases to federal court. In addition to making immunity claims under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, a federal trial would likely have a jury pool more sympathetic to Trump and his co-defendants.
While the state courthouse for this case is based in deep-blue Fulton County, the federal court district that includes Fulton also contains the more-Republican northern part of the state.
At his hearing last month, Meadows surprisingly took the stand trying to help move his case to federal court, testifying for more than three hours about what happened in the White House after the 2020 election.
Meadows tried to argue that all of his work as the president’s top adviser fit into his role as chief of staff – even when it spilled into politics.
“It’s still part of my job to make sure that the president is safe and secure and able to perform his job. And that’s what I was doing,” Meadows said, later adding, “serving the president of the United States and … it takes on all kinds of forms.”
But the Fulton County prosecutors peppered Meadows with questions about how his official job involved things like setting up phone calls involving campaign lawyers, such as Trump’s infamous January 2021 phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger when Trump asked Raffensperger to “find” enough votes for him to win the state.
Fulton County prosecutors also subpoenaed Raffensperger to testify at Meadows’ hearing, where Raffensperger said plainly there was no role for the federal government in certifying Georgia’s elections.
“It was a campaign call,” Raffensperger testified.
This story is breaking and will be updated.