ATLANTA – Mark Meadows, former White House chief of staff, is trying to avoid having to testify before a Georgia special grand jury that's investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and his allies illegally tried to influence the state's 2020 election.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened the investigation early last year, and the special grand jury was seated in May to review evidence and hear from witnesses. Willis filed a petition in August seeking to have Meadows testify before the panel.
Because Meadows lives outside of Georgia, Willis can't simply issue a subpoena for his testimony. Instead she has to get a judge in South Carolina, where he lives, to order him to appear.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney in Atlanta, who’s overseeing the special grand jury, signed off on the petition Willis filed for Meadows, certifying that he is a “necessary and material” witness for the investigation.
After receiving the paperwork from Willis' office, a prosecutor in Pickens County, South Carolina, on Sept. 9 asked a judge to set a hearing to determine whether Meadows must go to Atlanta to testify. In a response filed Monday, a lawyer for Meadows asked the South Carolina judge to deny the request.
Lawyer James Bannister argued in the court filing that Meadows has exerted executive privilege, which is currently being litigated in federal court so he is not a “material witness.” Meadows invoked that privilege in a fight against subpoenas issued by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The House held Meadows in contempt of Congress for defying the subpoena, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute.
Bannister also wrote that the summons before the court is now moot because it sought Meadows’ appearance on Sept. 27, which has now passed.
Will Wooten, a prosecutor in Willis’ office, said in a sworn statement made Oct. 7 and filed with the South Carolina court Monday that it’s his understanding that a hearing hadn’t been scheduled on the request to compel Meadows’ testimony because of scheduling conflicts. He provided several dates in November and asked the court to order Meadows to appear on one of those dates.
Bannister also asserted that the South Carolina law governing out-of-state subpoena requests applies only to criminal proceedings and, therefore, doesn’t apply because the special grand jury is a civil inquiry.
The special grand jury cannot issue an indictment. Instead, it can recommend action in a report when its investigation is complete. It would then be up to Willis to decide whether to seek an indictment from a regular grand jury.
Despite the special grand jury's inability to indict, McBurney wrote in response to an attempt by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to avoid or delay his testimony that this is, indeed, a criminal investigation.
In the petition seeking Meadows' testimony, Willis wrote that Meadows attended a Dec. 21, 2020, meeting at the White House with Trump and others “to discuss allegations of voter fraud and certification of electoral college votes from Georgia and other states.” The next day, Willis wrote, 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, the petition says.
Meadows also sent emails to Justice Department officials alleging voter fraud in Georgia and elsewhere and requesting investigations, Willis wrote. And he participated in a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, during which Trump suggested the state’s top elections official could “find” enough votes to overturn his narrow election loss in the state.
Meadows is among a number of high-profile Trump associates whose testimony Willis has sought. Former New York Mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who’s been told he could face criminal charges in the probe, testified in August. Attorneys John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro have also appeared before the panel.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s attempt to fight his subpoena was rejected last week by a federal appeals court, and he’s asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. Others whose testimony is being sought include former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.