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As Mark Meadows Pushes for Federal Trial, Activists Say Attack on Voting Rights at Heart of Georgia Case

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A judge on Monday set Donald Trump’s federal trial for plotting to overturn the 2020 election to begin in Washington, D.C., on March 4 — at the height of the presidential primary season and one day before Super Tuesday. Meanwhile, Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows testified before a federal judge in Georgia on Monday as part of an effort to move his trial from state to federal court. Meadows is one of Trump’s 18 co-defendants in the Georgia racketeering case, and any decisions on his fate could affect the others. Black Voters Matter co-founder Cliff Albright says at the heart of the Georgia case was an attempt to disenfranchise Black people who had helped push Joe Biden over the top in the state’s presidential election. “They were specifically going after Black voters,” Albright says of Trump and his allies. We also speak with law professor Anthony Michael Kreis, who attended Monday’s hearing in Georgia and says Trump’s mounting legal battles present “a real test for our constitutional order and our political system.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The federal trial of Donald Trump for plotting to overturn the 2020 election is now set to begin in Washington, D.C., on March 4th, 2024, one day before the Super Tuesday presidential primaries. District Judge Tanya Chutkan selected the date on Monday. Trump’s legal team had asked for the trial to be delayed until 2026, while special counsel Jack Smith had proposed a January 2024 start date.

In making their case for delaying the trial, Trump’s legal team cited the 1931 case of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of Black teenagers who were quickly tried and convicted after being falsely accused of raping a white woman. The Supreme Court eventually reversed their convictions. Judge Chutkan rejected the argument, saying Trump’s case is, quote, “profoundly different.” She wrote, quote, “I have seen many cases unduly delayed because a defendant lacks adequate representation … this is not the case here,” she said.

Meanwhile, in a separate case, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows testified before a federal judge in Georgia Monday as part of an effort to move his state trial from state to federal court. Meadows is one of Trump’s 18 co-defendants in the Georgia case. Arraignments for that case are scheduled for September 6th.

We go now to Atlanta, where we’re joined by two guests. Cliff Albright is co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter. Anthony Michael Kreis is an assistant professor of law at Georgia State University. He was in the courtroom Monday where Mark Meadows testified.

Let’s begin there, Professor Kreis. You were in the courtroom. Talk about what Mark Meadows is arguing for, going to — moving the case to a federal court, and the surprise that he himself testified for hours, what exactly he said, and what’s now on the record that can be used against him in the trial.

ANTHONY MICHAEL KREIS: So, Mark Meadows really wants to get his case removed and tried not in Fulton County state court, but he wants it in federal court, partially because the jury pool might be more favorable for him and because I think that there’s an expectation that federal rules of procedure might be more favorable. And so, Mark Meadows essentially has to show that he was acting at least plausibly within the scope of his employment as chief of staff to President Trump, and that’s why he’s entitled to this removal. So, there was a lot of debate and discussion about whether the actions he was taking in Georgia were consistent with his job, consistent with a federal interest that would warrant removal. And he gave a lot of very general explanations that weren’t particularly persuasive.

What was somewhat surprising is, yes, the fact that he testified, because he is under criminal indictment. So he was open to cross-examination in addition to the testimony he provided on direct examination.

And the big thing that I think we should kind of focus on here is he had very few answers for some of the issues and the evidence that the DA proffered that showed he was working with the campaign as chief of staff, which is unlawful under the Hatch Act, which is a federal law that says federal employees can’t engage in partisan electioneering. So, for example, he didn’t have a really good answer for why he offered to help get the assistance of Trump campaign funds to engage in an audit of ballots here in Fulton County. He didn’t have a particularly good explanation of why he was coordinating the fake elector scheme and the phone call between Brad Raffensperger and Donald Trump through election campaign officials. And he had really no answer for why, if he thought this was really about the federal government ensuring free and fair elections here in Georgia, that he never roped in or read into his calls people from the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security.

So, I think that he really had a very bad day. The threshold, to be clear, is pretty low to bring a case into federal court from state court for those who have been former federal employees, but I do think he had a rough time on the stand.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Professor Kreis, what was your sense of how the judge was reacting to his testimony, in particular, and her disposition to potentially move the case to federal court?

ANTHONY MICHAEL KREIS: Well, I think that there’s a couple of truths here. First is, Mark Meadows is a pretty affable guy. So, in terms of his testimony, he seemed, in some degree, cooperative. He seemed quite likable, which is great if you want to put your client on the stand. I think that’s partially why he was put on the stand, is because he has a pretty decent personality. And I think that that came across.

However, at the same time, there were a number of moments where he seemed to be evasive or seemed to give answers that droned on in order to avoid answering the question that the Fulton County DA’s Office posed to him. So, I think the judge, a number of times, redirected Mark Meadows to provide more direct, clearer answers that really spoke to what the Fulton DA was trying to ask. And that’s, of course, not a particularly great thing, right? Because the judge ultimately has to decide whether a witness is credible, in deciding these kinds of questions.

So, I think, in some respects, his testimony was a mixed bag. You know, he came across, again, as being somewhat cooperative and easygoing and pretty — his demeanor was generally good for a defendant in his situation, but at the same time, I think the judge was skeptical of his evasiveness.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And there will be at least some of the defendants who will have a speedier trial later this year, including Kenneth Chesebro. What’s your sense of the implications of this for Trump himself, that, in essence, that the prosecution will have to put much of its case in that trial ahead of time so that the Trump defense team, when he does come to trial, will have a pretty good sense of all of the strategy of the prosecution?

ANTHONY MICHAEL KREIS: Well, I think it’s a double-edged sword. So, the first threshold issue, though, is that Judge Scott McAfee will be the one who decides when these trials occur. So, it isn’t necessarily a given that Donald Trump will be tried separately from the individuals who have asked for a speedy trial. So, that’s kind of a threshold question we don’t really have an answer to.

But in the event that these are severed, the double-edged sword is basically this: On the one hand, Donald Trump’s team will get a taste of what the evidence is that hasn’t been publicly released, how the prosecutor will approach this, and will find ways, perhaps, to poke holes in evidence when it comes time for Donald Trump to come to trial. On the other hand, the same thing is true of the DA. The DA can learn what kinds of arguments might work better or may not work so well against Donald Trump, and this could be a test trial.

But the real danger for Donald Trump is the fact that when you have a number of defendants proceeding earlier, the likelihood is that there will be one or maybe more who will give evidence inadvertently that incriminates Donald Trump. They’ll point fingers at Donald Trump or other people who are higher up in the food chain. And there’s also the potential for some of these defendants to strike deals. And I think it’s really, really unlikely that Fani Willis, the district attorney here in Fulton County, will allow people to engage in plea deals that either gives them fairly light sentences or just, you know, essentially, a slap on the wrist, without fundamentally admitting that they engaged in an unlawful racketeering scheme. And that could be very dangerous for Donald Trump, too.

So, I think it really cuts in two different ways. There’s a lot of variables here that we still have to sort through here in Fulton County, right? Whether these cases will be in state court versus federal court, when the trials will occur, are there co-defendants who are currently engaged in negotiations to turn state’s evidence for the prosecution’s benefit. So, there’s a lot of open-ended questions that remain.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Cliff Albright into this conversation, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter. Can you once again frame this as a voting rights issue, as a massive violation of voting rights in Georgia, this RICO case that’s been brought against the president of the United States, his chief of staff, what they did in your state of Georgia?

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah. Thanks, Amy. To be clear, you know, we have to be honest at what Trump was attacking, what this entire conspiracy — because we should all be very clear, it wasn’t just Trump, right? At least 19 co-conspirators, even more that are unindicted at this point. But what they were attacking wasn’t even necessarily all voters of Georgia. I mean, in the big picture, it was all voters; it was the entire country. But they were specifically going after Black voters, right? They were specifically upset about Fulton County voters, right? The same way that they were upset about Pennsylvania, but they were really upset about Philadelphia; the same way they were upset about Michigan, but they were really upset just about Detroit. And so, you know, this attack on voters, overall, but in particular targeted at Black voters, we can’t underestimate the scale of it.

Even if we look at one aspect of it, the much, until recently, underreported aspect of the Coffee County break-in, the breach in the security systems, again, this is a county which had a history of suppressing Black votes, of attacking Black activists, like Olivia Coley-Pearson, who, by the way, the Georgia — Raffensperger, secretary of state, and GBI spent more time and resources investigating one woman, Olivia Pearson, in Coffee County just for helping people, illiterate voters, to be able to vote, than they have spent investigating the Coffee County breach, right? And so, all of this, we have got to put into the context of the wider suppression of Black votes and the wider risk to our voting systems and to this entire democracy. What happens in one county or in one state could, in fact, jeopardize the entire nation.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Cliff Albright, about what’s happening at two levels with an attack on Fani Willis herself, the Fulton County DA? You have the beginning of this legal battle between Georgia Republicans and Willis, as they may potentially try to remove her from office using Senate Bill 92. The law, signed by Governor Brian Kemp, states that a prosecutor can be removed for, quote, “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, which brings the office into disrepute.” Can you talk about that and, most recently, Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee — right? — the U.S. Congress, announcing he’s opening an inquiry into Willis, questioning whether she had collaborated with the Biden administration and targeting any federal funding her office received? So she’ll be taking on these investigations at the same time she’s bringing this RICO conspiracy case against the 19, including the former president.

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah. And, of course, you’ve got those two threats, which are legal and administrative threats, but then you’ve also got the other threats that we also know about, right? The physical threats, the intimidation, the threats of violence, which is a whole 'nother story. But just in terms of, like, those two political threats, you know, you'd like to not even take the Jim Jordan threat seriously. I mean, he’s trying to — you know, threatening to subpoena her. What we know is that that’s not going to go anywhere. She’s under no obligation to respond to that. But what we also know is that, to a certain extent, not only is he trying to protect Trump, he’s possibly even trying to protect himself. You know, he’s been kind of implicated in some of these overall conspiracies, not the actual charges that have been filed, but just in terms of his overall involvement in this plan, in some of the White House meetings and so on and so forth.

The far more serious one, though, other than the federal one that Jordan is leading, is the state version, which at the time we all knew. Many of us, including myself, warned that this was being targeted directly at Fani Willis. It was also being directed at other DAs that Republicans in the state feel aren’t being, quote-unquote, “tough on crime,” that they’re not enforcing, you know, the harshest sentences, that they’re not enforcing or going aggressively after marijuana cases, also has been targeted at DAs that have said that they wouldn’t be aggressive in enforcing abortion rules and laws. That goes for Georgia, as well as Florida, as well as elsewhere. But when Georgia, in particular, announced this law and went after her, what we knew was that they had Fani Willis squarely in their targets. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing, right? And so, we could very well see a situation where this state, where, by the way, Trump, as you’ve reported on — Trump cannot receive a pardon from the governor in this state, so the only way for them to really derail this is to derail the actual charges and the actual litigation. And that’s what they’re trying to do by threatening Fani Willis.

It’s important because it speaks to a point that I’ve said several times: There’s more than one way to overturn an election. Right? The Trump investigation is one way that they tried to overturn an election. But we are seeing, time and time again, with DAs, with mayors, with city councils, with legislators, as you just talked about earlier in the show in terms of Tennessee, that they are finding ways to overturn elections by simply removing people from offices, DAs and others, restricting their jurisdictions so that they don’t get to control as much territory — see Jackson, Mississippi — right? — creating a whole new jurisdiction — or, in some cases, simply limiting their powers to be able to investigate or take certain actions and preempting certain laws. There’s more than one way to overturn an election, and Black voters and Black communities have been experiencing this long before Trump stepped on the scene.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Cliff Albright, I’d like to go back to something you mentioned earlier, the Coffee County incident, that is one of the central parts of this RICO indictment. Could you, for those people who are not aware, talk more specifically about what is alleged that happened in Coffee County on the part of some of the Trump supporters and campaign folks?

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah, it’s a great question, because it’s a complicated piece of the puzzle that a lot of people really still don’t understand. I want to give shoutout to Marilyn Marks, Coalition for Good Governance, that did a lot of great work. A lot of people wouldn’t know — the country wouldn’t know what happened in Coffee County if not for litigation and activism that was already taking place in that county even before some of these federal investigations and state investigations started.

But to put simply, what happened was that you had local officials in Coffee County who allegedly gave an invite to certain Trump-related agents, including, of all people, Cyber Ninjas, that many of us know of in Arizona, but gave invites for them to come in and inspect the computer systems and the softwares and the voter information in Coffee County. We know that officials from the Secretary of State’s Office, Georgia investigators, actually came into the office at a time when you had unauthorized agents in the very office where there’s not supposed to be any other access other than the county election officials. But there were people in that office, and they knew it. It’s on video, but nothing was done. No investigation has been started at the state level.

Why this is so dangerous and why it’s part of the overall conspiracy is because of the nature of George’s election systems and the ways that the state mandates the machines and the systems for the entire state and the ways that they are connected. Just coming in the door in Coffee County doesn’t just get you access to Coffee County voters. The way that our friend Marilyn has put it and others have put it is that picture the Georgia election systems and voter information as being a safe that has 159 doors to get into the safe. That’s 159 counties in the state of Georgia. You can get into that safe through any of those doors, but, once in, you have access to the entire system. So, it’s not just tha they breached Coffee County; they breached the entire state. And in doing so, they put this entire election at risk and future elections, because, mind you, the state of Georgia is still using — they’ve not changed anything in the system, so our upcoming 2024 elections are still using the same system that we know has been breached.

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Judge in D.C. Sets Trump Trial for March 4 & Rejects Trump Lawyer’s Citation of Scottsboro Boys Case

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