On a cloudy Monday in December 2020, a small group of Republicans gathered in the Georgia Capitol. State GOP chairman David Shafer called the meeting to order at noon and and made sure there were 16 presidential electors. Then they rose one by one and signed paperwork certifying Donald Trump as the winner of the presidential election.
That meeting — which lasted just 31 minutes — is a centerpiece of Fulton County’s wide-ranging racketeering case.
Fulton prosecutors say the electors were part of a Trump conspiracy to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
The electors say they acted only to preserve Trump’s legal rights and had no idea their votes would be used to try to overturn the election in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.
The courts will determine whether prosecutors or the defendants have the better argument. The first glimpse of an answer could come this week.
Three of the electors ― Shafer, state Sen. Shawn Still and former Coffee County GOP Chairwoman Cathy Latham ― were charged in an indictment handed up last month. They have asked a judge to transfer their cases to federal court. Legal observers say that’s not likely.
But Wednesday’s hearing gives prosecutors and the electors a chance to test their arguments in a courtroom. The electors played a crucial role in what prosecutors say was an illegal scheme to pressure state officials and Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election.
Investigators have evidence that plan was under way before the Trump electors met to cast their ballots. But the electors have said they knew of no such plan.
John Malcolm, a former federal prosecutor now at the conservative Heritage Foundation, believes the charges against the electors are misguided. He said their actions were consistent with federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
“I think that they behaved perfectly reasonably,” Malcolm said. “They were trying to preserve a remedy for President Trump if he prevailed (in court).”
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