Trump’s chief of staff, Meadows, says the actions outlined in the Georgia indictment were part of his job

ATLANTA – Mark Meadows testified in court Monday that the actions detailed in a sweeping indictment accusing him of participating in an illegal conspiracy to overturn then-President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss were all part of his job as chief of staff of the White House were.

The extraordinary testimony – from a former top aide to the president who is now being tried alongside his old boss – came in the first courtroom battle in a case likely to involve many. Meadows’ allegations were part of his argument that the case should be moved from state court to federal court. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones did not immediately rule.

With Trump consumed by claims of widespread voter fraud in the weeks following his 2020 defeat, Meadows said it was difficult to focus on the things that needed to be done to end the presidency. As a result, Meadows said, he took steps to determine whether the allegations were true, including actions that prosecutors deemed improper.

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Meadows said he didn’t believe he did anything that was “beyond my scope as chief of staff.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who cited Georgia state law in filing the lawsuit, alleges that Trump, Meadows and 17 others were involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy to assassinate the Republican president even after his election defeat Democrats illegally keep Joe Biden in power. Willis’ team argued that Meadows’ actions were political in nature and not within the scope of his official duties.

It is just one of four criminal cases Trump is currently facing. In Washington on Monday, a judge presiding over a federal trial over allegations that Trump tried to illegally undermine the results of the 2020 election set a trial date for March 4, 2024, right in the middle of the presidential primary calendar.

During the hearing in Georgia, Meadows’ attorney, George J. Terwilliger III, called his client to the stand and asked him about his duties as Trump’s chief of staff. The lawyer then walked him through the acts alleged in the indictment and asked him whether he committed them as part of his job. For most of the acts listed, Meadows stated that he committed them as part of his official duties.

Under cross-examination, prosecutor Anna Cross went through the same files and asked Meadows what federal policy was represented in each file. He repeatedly said that the federal interest was to ensure accurate and fair elections, but she repeatedly accused him of not answering her question.

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Meadows spent nearly four hours on the witness stand, sometimes struggling to recall details of the events that unfolded about two months after the election. But he remained optimistic, indulging in self-deprecation and joking about how he sometimes forgets to take out the trash, smiling frequently and laughing at the judge’s jokes.

Prosecutor Donald Wakeford told the judge in his closing argument that the law allowing a case to be moved from state court to federal court is designed to protect federal power. However, he argued that there was no federal agency that needed to be protected in this case because Meadows’ actions were explicitly political and aimed at keeping Trump in power, making them illegal under the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan political activity by federal employees restricted.

Terwilliger argued that the state cannot use an indictment to influence the work of a chief of staff. Even a mistake by Meadows would not be a reason not to move the case to federal court, “unless it was malicious and intentional,” he said.

The allegations against Meadows include participating, along with Trump and others, in meetings or communications with state lawmakers designed to advance the alleged illegal plan to keep Trump in power; Traveling to the suburbs of Atlanta, where an audit of the ballot envelope signature took place; Arranging a telephone conversation between Trump and an investigator for the Georgia Secretary of State; and participating in a phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in January 2021, in which Trump suggested Raffensperger could help “find the 11,780 votes” he needed to win Georgia.

Called as a witness by prosecutors, Raffensperger said in response to Trump and his allies’ efforts in the weeks after the election that “the reach on this scale was extraordinary.” However, under questioning by Meadows’ lawyer, Michael Francisco, he said that Meadows himself had not asked him to do anything that he considered inappropriate.

The judge said he would try to rule as quickly as possible, but there was not much relevant case law and he would need to “thoroughly consider” the matter. Meanwhile, the case continues in Fulton County Superior Court, and the judge said Meadows will have to answer a Sept. 6 arraignment if he has not made a decision by then.

If Meadows is successful in getting his case to federal court, it would mean a jury pool encompassing a broader area than just overwhelmingly Democratic Fulton County. It would also mean the trial would not be photographed or televised as cameras are not allowed inside. But it doesn’t open the door for Trump, if re-elected in 2024, or any other president to pardon anyone, since convictions would still occur under state law.

At least four other defendants in the indictment are also seeking to take their cases to federal court, and there is speculation that Trump will try to do the same. Trump lawyers Steve Sadow and Jennifer Little listened intently to the Meadows hearing in the courtroom on Monday, along with lawyers for several other defendants.

During his testimony, Meadows denied two of the allegations against him in the indictment. He testified that he never asked White House staff secretary John McEntee to write a memo to Vice President Mike Pence outlining how to delay certification of the election.

“When that came to light in the indictment, that was the biggest surprise to me,” Meadows said. He later said, “The fact that I asked Johnny McEntee for a memo like that just didn’t happen.”

He also said he did not text Georgia Secretary of State’s Chief Investigator Frances Watson, as alleged in the indictment. Rather, he believes the text was sent to Jordan Fuchs, the deputy foreign minister.

Kate Brumback reports for The Associated Press.