Trump Georgia election case faces first major test

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One of Donald Trump’s co-defendants in the Georgia election interference inquiry is attempting to transfer his case from state to federal court.

If ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows succeeds, it could provide a blueprint for Mr Trump and other defendants to move their cases, too.

Any such switch could result in a more politically diverse jury pool or slow down the process.

Mr Meadows was called to testify at Monday’s closely watched hearing.

Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis was expected to lay out some of her case for the court.

Earlier this month, the district attorney charged Mr Trump, Mr Meadows and 17 others with a conspiracy to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

All 19 defendants surrendered at the Fulton County Jail last week, including Mr Trump, who submitted to a mugshot for the first time. Court filings released on Monday indicate they will be arraigned on 6 September, when they will each be expected to enter a plea.

Mr Meadows is accused of arranging calls and meetings in which Mr Trump allegedly pressured election officials to change the vote count in his favour.

Mr Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has denied any wrongdoing and says the prosecutor is politically motivated.

A bid to move jurisdictions

Ms Willis, a Democrat, brought Georgia state charges, which means that for now the case will be overseen by a state court in Fulton County, encompassing the Atlanta area.

But under a process known as “removal”, defendants can argue that their cases should be tried in federal court if they were acting in their capacity as federal employees. They would still be tried on the state charges, however.

Mr Meadows, who served as the White House chief of staff at the time the alleged crimes took place, has made this argument.

“Mr Meadows has the right to remove this matter,” his lawyers wrote in a recent court filing. “The conduct giving rise to the charges in the indictment all occurred during his tenure and as part of his service as Chief of Staff.”

They also argued that “nothing Mr Meadows is alleged in the indictment to have done is criminal per se”.

US District Judge Steven Jones, an Obama appointee, is hearing the request on Monday.

Four other defendants – former justice department official Jeffrey Clark, Georgia lawmaker Shawn Still, former Georgia Republican chairman David Shafer and alleged “fake elector” Cathy Latham – have also filed for removal.

Legal experts have told the BBC that Mr Trump’s lawyers could attempt to file for removal as well.

Mr Meadows is the first to receive a hearing, making his removal attempt a key test for whether other co-defendants may follow suit.

The advantages of moving the case

There could be a few incentives for a defendant to transfer their case to federal court.

The first is the presumption of a wider and more politically diverse jury pool. Fulton County, which encompasses Atlanta, is solidly Democratic. The federal jurisdiction of Northern Georgia encompasses a broader area, including some Republican counties. But a friendlier jury is not guaranteed by a change to the federal court.

The jury could still be pulled from a division of that federal jurisdiction that encompasses the counties around Atlanta. Mr Trump lost many of the counties surrounding Atlanta in the 2020 election.

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Switching to a federal jurisdiction would also put the case on a smoother path through the federal appeals courts and potentially, to the US Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority thanks to Mr Trump’s appointments.

Moving to federal court may also buy the lawyers representing Mr Meadows and other plaintiffs some time as they engage in more legal manoeuvres related to the switch.

Another potential bonus is that cameras aren’t typically allowed in a federal courtroom.

But even if any of the cases are moved to federal court, neither Mr Trump nor any Republican who takes the White House in 2024 will be able to issue a pardon for these alleged crimes.

The president’s pardon power extends to convictions on federal crimes, not state ones.

And Georgia’s lengthy pardons process means any legal reprieve would take years to come to fruition – if ever.

Election graphic

Related Topics

  • Georgia
  • Indictments of Donald Trump
  • US election 2024
  • Donald Trump
  • US politics

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