(ATLANTA) — Fulton County prosecutors rebutted claims that three so-called “alternate electors” amounted to federal officials during a hearing Wednesday in District Attorney Fani Willis’ Georgia election interference case.
Judge Steve Jones, for a third time, heard arguments during an evidentiary hearing in Atlanta on the issue of federal removal, this time from David Shafer, Shawn Still and Cathy Latham — three of former President Donald Trump’s so-called “alternate electors” who are charged in the conspiracy case.
The three are following in the footsteps of former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark, two federal officials who were charged in the case and have sought to move their cases based on a federal law that calls for the removal of criminal proceedings brought in state court to the federal court system when a federal official or someone acting under them is charged for actions they allegedly took while acting “under color” of their office.
Shafer, Still and Latham are charged with impersonating a public officer and forgery, among other crimes, after they allegedly met with 13 other individuals in December 2020 and put forward electors’ certificates falsely stating that Trump won the state and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors.
Attorneys for the three told the judge that their clients’ efforts were legal and that their actions qualify them to have their cases removed to federal court.
But Fulton County prosecutors slammed the defendants’ argument as a “fantasy” that was “untethered” to reality.
“These private parties did not transform into public officials by committing a crime,” prosecutor Anna Cross told the court. “They were not federal officials. They were not electors at all.”
Tensions in the courtroom flared briefly after one of Shafer’s attorneys, Craig Gillen, accused prosecutors of targeting the electors over their support for former President Trump, which he called a “sad state of affairs.”
As a defendant, Gillen said, “if you’re for Trump, buckle up. You’re in the danger zone.”
Cross called the accusation “borderline offensive.”
“That’s an accusation that the state 100% rejects,” the prosecutor said.
Attorneys for the three defendants laid out their arguments as to why their elector plan was legal, and why it places them under federal law and qualifies for removal.
“What bugs me is that these three have been labeled as ‘fake’ [electors],” Gillen said. “They served pursuant to federal law.”
Gillen, in a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation, made his case that authority over the electors was turned over to the federal government after he said the state of Georgia “missed” the “critical” Dec. 8, 2020, safe harbor deadline for states to certify their results, by not resolving the pending litigation filed the Trump campaign by that date.
“They did their duty,” Gillen said of the so-called alternate electors.
“When the state misses the safe harbor date,” added Holly Pierson, another attorney for Shafer, “the power goes back Congress.”
Pierson also pushed back on the state’s claim that electors are not federal officers.
“Our clients did what federal law allows them to do,” Pierson said.
Judge Jones took the matter under advisement and said he would try to issue a ruling as quickly as possible, but did not offer a timeframe.
The three defendants could face an uphill battle after Jones earlier this month denied Meadows’ bid to have his case removed. Clark is awaiting a ruling on his motion, while Meadows is continuing his efforts on appeal.
Trump and 18 others were charged last month in a sweeping racketeering indictment for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia. All 19 defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Shafer previously served as the chair of the Georgia Republican Party, while Still is currently a Georgia state senator and Latham was the GOP chair for Coffee County.
None of the three are appeared in court for their joint hearing, after each submitted a waiver for their in-person appearances. Clark also did not appear for his hearing, while Meadows testified at his own hearing for over three hours.
Shafer, Still and Cathy Latham have argued in court filings that they qualify for removal because they were acting as federal officials, under federal authority, in their role as alternate electors.
“The role of presidential elector is a federal one — created and directed by the United States Constitution and Congress,” the motion from Still’s attorney argued. “Thus, Mr. Still, acting as a presidential elector, was a federal officer.”
But that argument has drawn sharp rebuke from the Fulton County DA’s office, who said the individuals “falsely impersonated” real electors and do not qualify for removal.
“Defendants and his fellow fraudulent electors conspired in a scheme to impersonate true Georgia presidential electors,” the DA’s office wrote in a filing. “Their fiction is not entitled to recognition by the Court.”
“‘Contingent electors’ are not presidential electors,” the filing said, adding that “there is no prize for first runner up in the Electoral college.”
Judge Jones, in denying Meadows’ bid to move his case to federal court, said Meadows failed to show how the allegations in the indictment were related to any of his official duties as Trump’s chief of staff.
Instead, Jones said Meadows’ actions were “taken on behalf of the Trump campaign with an ultimate goal of affecting state election activities and procedures.”
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