“Aiding a coup is not your job”: Experts rip Meadows bid to dodge Fulton DA under "official duties"

Even if Meadows can move the case, Fani Willis would still be the prosecutor and a president still can't pardon him

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 16, 2023 8:43AM (EDT)

Mark Meadows (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Mark Meadows (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Tuesday filed to move the case brought against him by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to federal court.

Meadows' attorneys argued that federal law requires the removal of the case to federal court when a federal official is acting "under color" of their duties, ABC News reported. Sources told the outlet that former President Donald Trump is expected to mount a similar effort.

Meadows attorney George Terwilliger argued in the filing that the former Trump aide was merely doing his job.

"Nothing Mr. Meadows is alleged in the indictment to have done is criminal per se: arranging Oval Office meetings, contacting state officials on the President's behalf, visiting a state government building, and setting up a phone call for the President," the filing said. "One would expect a Chief of Staff to the President of the United States to do these sorts of things."

"This is precisely the kind of state interference in a federal official's duties that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits, and that the removal statute shields against," the filing added.

Terwilliger also wrote that while Meadows plans to file a motion to dismiss his indictment entirely, removing the case to federal court would "halt the state-court proceedings against Mr. Meadows."

District Judge Steve Jones, an Obama appointee, has been assigned to Meadows' case, according to the report.

Meadows was indicted by a Fulton County grand jury for allegedly violating the state's racketeering law and solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer. The indictment accuses Meadows of partaking in Trump's efforts to overturn his election results in close states and cites Meadows' surprise December 2020 visit to an Atlanta-area facility where ballots were being audited. He was also on Trump's infamous call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger demanding he "find" enough votes to overturn his loss.

Legal experts expressed skepticism at Meadows' argument.

Terwilliger is "now in the unenviable position of arguing that using authority one only has because they're a public official to try to overturn an election is acting [within] the scope of official duties—a tight needle to thread, if he can," former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman said it was "difficult to see how his defense lawyers can argue he was acting under 'color of his federal office'" given the allegations against him.

Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks rejected Meadows' claim that "he was doing his job."

"Aiding a coup is not your job, nor is following orders of a criminal wanna be dictator," she wrote.

"I don't think it's going to work because removal is only for official duties & an attempted coup isn't in the job description," agreed CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen, who served as a Democratic lawyer in Trump's first impeachment.

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Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman argued that Trump has a better shot of having his case moved to federal court than Meadows.

"He can't be following illegal orders and still say 'I'm acting under color of my office.' Look at the way the attorney is trying to frame it," he told MSNBC. "It is less of an easy case for him than it is for Trump," he added.

Eric Segall, a law professor at Georgia State University, told Salon's Areeba Shah on Tuesday that Trump may be able to get his case moved because engaging in "official duties" is defined "very broadly."

Though Trump's bid to move his Manhattan hush-money case to federal court failed because a judge rejected his claim that it was related to his office, Trump could argue that his efforts were aimed at protecting the fairness of elections, Segall explained.

"We know that wasn't his motivation," he added. "His motivation was he hated losing."

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But even if Meadows or Trump is able to move their case to federal court, they won't be able to dodge Willis.

"Even if Trump succeeds in removing the case, the offenses are still Georgia state crimes, not federal offenses subject to Article II," wrote Steve Vladeck, a federal courts expert at the University of Texas.

"It's still Georgia state law charges. Fani Willis and her team will still prosecute the case. The only difference is they will prosecute the case a few blocks down the road at the federal courthouse," Lawfare Fulton County correspondent Anna Bower explained on MSNBC.

"Federal procedural rules will largely apply and a federal judge preside over the case," she explained, adding that there would also be a different jury pool. "But it doesn't mean that the charges are any different or that the prosecutorial team is any different. It won't be federal prosecutors, it will still be state prosecutors. And, importantly, Trump or any other future president will still not be able" to issue pardons because they are state charges.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Fani Willis Mark Meadows Politics