Ex-Trump Aide Meadows Says 2020 Challenge Was Part of Job

(Bloomberg) -- Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows testified he was just following orders from Donald Trump in helping to orchestrate efforts looking into alleged fraud in the 2020 election, arguing that he was acting at the direction of the former president.

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Meadows took the stand on Monday in federal court in Atlanta to argue that the criminal case against him should be moved to federal court because the alleged conduct was connected to his job. Meadows told the judge the actions he carried out were all part of his responsibilities as a White House official.

“I don’t know that I did anything that was outside my scope as chief of staff,” Meadows testified.

The judge didn’t rule on the request to move the case but said he’d do so by Sept. 6.

Meadows, who was charged with racketeering as part of Fulton County Fani Willis’s sprawling indictment over efforts to overturn the election results, was one of the key figures working alongside Trump during his final months at the White House. He’s also a key figure in a federal case being prosecuted by Special Counsel Jack Smith, where he wasn’t charged.

Meadows and his legal team acted early to cooperate with federal prosecutors and Smith, giving them essential information and providing grand jury testimony even though he hasn’t been given a formal cooperation agreement, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked to remain anonymous speaking about the sensitive issue.

Cooperation with Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis and her team, however, didn’t work out the same way and Meadows wasn’t able to avoid being charged in her indictment. He’s portrayed there as a collaborator who, among other things, arranged Oval Office meetings, contacted state officials and scheduled calls.

Read more: Trump Trial Set for March 4 in Federal 2020 Election Case

If the case is successfully transfered to federal court, Meadows can argue that he is protected from state prosecution by the Supremacy Clause in the US Constitution, which protects employees of the federal government from state prosecutions over conduct related to their jobs.

Meadows testified that Trump told him to set up the infamous call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, urging him to “find” him enough votes to defeat President Joe Biden in the state.

In court Monday, Meadows maintained that “there is a role for a chief of staff to make sure that campaign goals and objectives get enacted.” Under intense cross examination, he admitted there is no role for the federal government when it comes to states certifying elections.

Atlanta defense attorney Jerry Froelich said Meadows took a chance by testifying but it was his only chance to get the trial moved.

“It’s a big-time risk for Meadows to testify because the prosecutors may charge him with perjury if he lies,” said Froelich, who’s not involved in the case. “The prosecutors now know what he’ll say if he testifies at the trial itself and they can use anything he says against him.”

Meadows’s attempt to move the case is an early test of the strength of Willis’s sweeping indictment alleging he conspired with Trump and 17 others to alter the election outcome. Willis brought the fourth indictment against Trump this year, but she’s the first to have to lay out some of her evidence in court.

The hearing was held before US District Judge Steve Jones, who will decide whether Meadows must be tried in Fulton County, where Biden beat Trump by a 3-to-1 margin, or in federal court. Jurors in federal court would be drawn from a broader, more conservative pool. Four other defendants also want their cases moved. The decision will also affect the timing and contours of the Willis racketeering case.

Willis argued in court filings that neither Trump nor Meadows had legal authority to take actions regarding the administration of a presidential election. The Meadows indictment, Willis argued, “is the result of activities taken by him solely to advance the personal and electoral interests of Donald J. Trump.”

Beyond the Raffensperger call, the indictment alleges Meadows arranged for Trump to communicate with state officials about the election and traveled to Georgia to “report back” on an election audit.

Willis has subpoenaed Raffensperger and his former investigator Frances Watson to testify at the hearing.

Prosecutors focused on picking apart Meadows’s reasoning on why his actions should be considered as part of his federal job. At times under cross examination, Meadows didn’t directly respond to questions and the judge directed him to give straight answers.

Four other defendants also want their case heard in federal court: former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark; former Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer; state Senator Shawn Still; and former Coffee County Republican Chairwoman Cathy Latham. Shafer, Still and Latham were among the 16 fake electors who falsely certified Trump won the election, Willis alleges. One defendant, attorney Kenneth Chesebro, has an Oct. 23 trial date in state court.

--With assistance from Erik Larson and David Voreacos.

(Updates with meadows cooperation in sixth paragraph)

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