On Friday, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark was dealt a significant legal blow after a judge denied his request to move his Georgia charges to federal court, damaging the early defense strategy that several charged individuals in former President Trump’s Georgia case have adopted.
Clark argued that, because he was acting in his capacity as a federal official, he should be tried in a federal court. Had the assertion been accepted, it could have provided a pathway for him and others to claim immunity.
However, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, an Obama appointed judge, rejected the argument on Friday in a 31-page ruling, marking the second time he has done so for a defendant.
“The Court concludes that Clark has not submitted evidence to meet his burden to show that his actions were causally related to his federal office,” Jones wrote in his decision.
Jones previously rejected a similar attempt made by Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, although Meadows is appealing the ruling. Jones has not yet ruled on the requests to move courts filed by the three “fake electors” charged in the indictment.
A lawyer for Trump said on Thursday that he does not intend to move his prosecution to federal court.
“This decision is based on his well-founded confidence that this Honorable Court intends to fully completely protect his constitutional right to a fair trial and guarantee him due process of law throughout the prosecution of his case in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia,” Trump attorney Steve Sadow wrote in court filings.
Clark’s charges stem from his expressed desire to send a letter to officials in Georgia, raising concerns of mass election fraud, with prosecutors claiming that Clark knew the letter included a false statement and alleging that his superiors at the Department of Justice told him it was a lie and that neither he nor the department at large had authority to make claims of fraud.
The prosecutors have also contested Clark’s claim that his efforts to try to send the letter were within the scope of his position with the Justice Department. At the time, Clark was overseeing the Justice Department’s environmental division and acting as the overseer of the civil division.
Clark claimed that Trump had changed his job responsibilities to include election-related matters and at one point following the 2020 election, Trump had wanted to have Clark lead the Justice Department as he became increasingly vocal about claims of fraud.
However, Jones ruled that Clark had submitted “no evidence” that the letter in question was written within the scope of his role with the DOJ.
“To the contrary, the evidence before the Court indicates the opposite: Clark’s role in the Civil Division did not include any role in the investigation or oversight of State elections,” Jones said.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat, has opposed attempts to move out of state court, seeking to keep all defendants in one place.
The dispute over attempts to move the charges has become one of the major legal battles in the case since Trump and 18 others were indicted by Willis last month, with claims that all the parties were involved in a months-long conspiracy to unlawfully keep the former president in power.
If successful in removing their charges from Georgia, many defendants have signaled an intent to follow up by asserting constitutional immunity to have their charges dropped before going to trial.
However, even if they were to go on to face a jury, having the charges removed would broaden the jury pool to areas of northern Georgia beyond heavily-Democratic Fulton County and would prevent the trial from being televised.
Some legal experts believe that if any defendant is successful in removing their charges, all the co-defendants would automatically move with them.
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