A US judge yesterday ordered former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to testify before a special grand jury investigating whether Donald Trump and his allies illegally tried to influence Georgia’s 2020 election.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened the investigation early last year into actions taken by Mr Trump and others to overturn his loss to Joe Biden.
Mr Meadows is one of a number of high-profile associates and advisers of the Republican former president whose testimony Ms Willis has sought.
Because Mr Meadows doesn’t live in Georgia, Ms Willis – a Democrat – had to use a process that involves getting a judge where he lives in South Carolina to order him to appear.
She filed a petition in August seeking to compel his testimony. Fulton County judge Robert McBurney, who’s overseeing the special grand jury, signed off on the petition, certifying that Mr Meadows is a “necessary and material witness” for the investigation.
In the petition seeking Mr Meadows’s testimony, Ms Willis wrote that Mr Meadows attended a December 21, 2020, meeting at the White House with Mr Trump and others “to discuss allegations of voter fraud and certification of electoral college votes from Georgia and other states.”
The next day, Ms Willis wrote, Mr Meadows made a “surprise visit” to Cobb County, just outside Atlanta, where an audit of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes was being conducted. He asked to observe the audit – but wasn’t allowed to because it wasn’t open to the public.
Mr Meadows also sent emails to Justice Department officials after the election alleging voter fraud in Georgia and elsewhere and requesting investigations, Willis wrote.
And he participated in a January 2, 2021, phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, during which Trump suggested the state’s top elections official, also a Republican, could “find” enough votes to overturn his narrow election loss in the state.
In a court filing this week, Bannister argued that executive privilege and other rights shield his client from testifying.
Bannister asserted in the filing that Meadows has been instructed by Trump “to preserve certain privileges and immunities attaching to his former office as White House Chief of Staff”.
Willis’ petition calls for him “to divulge the contents of executive privileged communications with the president”.
Meadows previously invoked that privilege in a fight against subpoenas issued by the US House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. The House held Meadows in contempt of Congress for defying the subpoena, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute.
Special grand juries in Georgia cannot issue indictments. Instead, they can gather evidence and compel testimony and then can recommend further action, including criminal charges, in a final report.
But it is ultimately up to the district attorney to decide whether to seek an indictment from a regular grand jury.