Former President Donald Trump’s legal team has indicated a potential shift in the venue for the Georgia election interference case against him. His lawyer has filed a document suggesting the case might be moved from Fulton County to a federal court.
“President Trump hereby notifies the Court that he may seek removal of his prosecution to federal court under 28 U.S.C. [Sections] 1442 & 1445,” Steven Sadow, lead counsel for Trump in the Georgia case, wrote in a Sept. 7 filing. “His written waiver of arraignment was filed on August 31, 2013. To be timely, his notice of removal must be filed within 30 days of his arraignment.”
The case, initiated by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, implicates Trump and 18 co-defendants. They are accused of forming a “criminal racketeering enterprise” by challenging the 2020 presidential election results.
Should a notice of removal be filed, an evidentiary hearing will take place in federal court. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones will then determine the extent of the case that may be sent back to state court. He also holds the authority to reject a removal outright, relegating the case back to state jurisdiction without any hearing.
Four co-defendants have already taken action, seeking the removal of their cases. These individuals include Mark Meadows, former chief of staff to Trump; Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official during Trump’s tenure; and David Shafer and Shawn Still, alternate electors. They contend that their roles, sanctioned by Congress, qualify as federal offices. They further assert that they acted under the guidance of federal officers.
The U.S. Constitution establishes the supremacy of federal law over state law. This has been interpreted in court decisions to mean that federal officers, prior to taking action, are not bound by state law and cannot be prosecuted in state courts.
Several motivations might drive the decision to remove the case. Some defense attorneys have argued for the case’s complete dismissal.
A significant hearing took place on Aug. 28, where Jones considered Meadows’s request for removal. The prosecution had summoned multiple witnesses to argue against moving the case from state jurisdiction, transforming the initial hearing into a more extensive legal proceeding. This marked the inaugural legal debate in court concerning the 2020 election challenge, a matter for which Trump faces indictment in federal court.
Meadows’s defense centered on his immunity from state charges. The prosecution countered, asserting that his actions, as detailed in the indictment, did not align with the duties of a federal officer.
The exhaustive hearing concluded without a definitive ruling. Jones sought further arguments from both parties on a specific point: if even a single action by Meadows, for which he is charged, was executed in his capacity as a federal officer, would that justify removing the case? Both sides presented their arguments by Aug. 31. The defense posited that past precedents indicate this would be more than sufficient. Conversely, the prosecution contended it would not meet the criteria.
Jones, still deliberating on Meadows’s case, has scheduled another evidentiary hearing for Jeffrey Clark’s case removal on Sept. 18. Fani Willis’ team has a deadline of Sept. 8 to respond to Clark’s case, having received an extension from the original Sept. 5 date.
Clark’s situation might be more clear-cut than Meadows’s. The indictment references only a single action by Clark amid the various charges.
During his tenure, Clark released a DOJ statement expressing “significant concerns” about potential impacts on the election results in several states, including Georgia. He secured signatures from other DOJ officials on this statement and ensured its delivery to Georgia’s election authorities.
All the accused face charges under the state’s RICO, or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Additional charges have been levied against Clark for attempting to make false statements and writings. Meadows faces an added charge related to soliciting a violation of oath by a public officer, which refers to his role in arranging a call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
The indictment also details several other actions by Meadows, such as coordinating and attending meetings for or with the president. The federal court is currently determining whether these actions were executed by Meadows in his official role. It is also assessing how many cases, if the defendants only acted officially in some instances, should be tried in federal court as opposed to state court.
These removal requests have added layers of complexity to the case Willis had intended to try as a single proceeding with all 19 defendants. She initially proposed a trial start date of March 4, 2024. However, following a defendant’s plea for a swift trial, she suggested commencing the trial for all 19 defendants on Oct. 23, a mere two months away.
Given the nature of a RICO case, the prosecution must present the entire case, inclusive of all evidence and an estimated 150 witnesses, regardless of whether they are prosecuting one, two, or all 19 co-defendants.
“Evidence against one is evidence against all,” Nathan Wade, Georgia special prosecutor, said during a hearing before Judge Scott McAfee on Sept. 7, addressing two defendants who’ve requested their cases be severed while also seeking a rapid trial.
The judge highlighted the potential redundancy of a state court ruling if any of the defendants successfully transfer their cases to federal court. He voiced doubts regarding the prosecution’s proposed four-month timeline for the trials.
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