It’s a big gamble, but it could pay off.
Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows made a surprise move on Monday and took the stand in his bid to move the Georgia state prosecution against him to federal court, testifying for hours in federal court about his role in Trump’s effort to reverse his loss in the 2020 election.
Testifying in his case comes with great risks for Meadows, defense attorneys and former prosecutors told TPM, but has a tantalizing reward: potentially swaying the federal judge to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ case against him to federal court, where it could then be ripe for dismissal.
“It’s a high-stakes gamble,” Harry Sandick, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, told TPM.
The risks are high because, among other things, Meadows is: opening himself up to cross-examination, could potentially incriminate himself, and thereby may creating evidence which could be used against him if his bid to claim that his actions were undertaken as part of his official duties and are therefore immune from state prosecution fails.
Meadows, via his attorney George Terwilliger III, moved the day after indictment in Fulton County on two felony counts to have the case removed to federal court. His argument is simple, and not one that can be dismissed out of hand: He was a federal official acting within his duties and therefore should be tried in federal court.
That opens up a path for Meadows to move to dismiss the case further down the road on the same grounds: state prosecutors cannot charge federal officials for conduct undertaken within their official duties.
By testifying, Sandick said, Meadows is aiming to persuade the judge that his involvement in Trump’s bid to reverse his loss was a part of his duties as a federal official. But testifying about his conduct during the election reversal effort comes with risks which loom large: by speaking under oath, Meadows may stop himself from being able to argue later on that he wasn’t involved in certain aspects of the scheme.
Undergoing cross-examination from Georgia prosecutors who brought the case against heightens that risk.
David Oscar Markus, a criminal defense attorney based in Florida, told TPM that Meadows and his attorneys decided that the risks of testifying were outweighed by “the reward of winning the removal hearing.”
“There are definite risks in testifying, including saying something that could be used against him later,” he said.
Markus added that Meadows and his attorneys filed “lighting fast” to have the case removed.
Limited early reports Monday from the courthouse, where electronic devices are not allowed, preventing reporters from real-time providing coverage, suggest that Meadows spoke about the crux of his exposure in Willis’ indictment: the January 2 call which Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). Meadows was on the call when Trump asked Raffensperger to find him enough votes to win.
Meadows’ testimony — and cross-examination — concluded on Monday, with Raffensperger himself to follow.
During his time on the stand, Meadows reportedly emphasized that his work investigating voter fraud allegations for Trump were within his duties as a federal official. That, Meadows reportedly averred, included his involvement on the January 2 call.
“It was a very broad responsibility,” Meadows reportedly said of the job of chief of staff. “I found myself on defense a lot with things coming at me from a million different directions.”
Meadows reportedly said that Trump was searching for “a less-litigious way of resolving” his supposed concerns about voting fraud — presumably, in this case, by pressing Raffensperger.
The removal hearing is still underway. It’s not clear whether it will wrap on Monday or continue into Tuesday.