Georgia Judge Dismisses 6 Charges in Trump Election Interference Case

Alex Slitz/Pool via REUTERS
Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides in court Friday, March 1, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.

ATLANTA – A Georgia judge dismissed three of the 13 charges against former president Donald Trump and some of the charges against his allies in the sweeping election interference case, but declined to dismiss the entire indictment.

In a nine-page order issued Wednesday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee dismissed six of the 41 counts in the indictment against Trump and his allies, who are accused of conspiring to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. All of the dismissed charges are related to pressure that Trump or five of his co-defendants allegedly put on state officials to change the results.

“As written, these six counts contain all the essential elements of the crimes but fail to allege sufficient detail regarding the nature of their commission, i.e., the underlying felony solicited,” McAfee wrote.

The judge added: “This does not mean the entire indictment is dismissed.” McAfee pointedly declined a defense request challenging the overt acts tied to charges – meaning they are still part of the overall indictment. Prosecutors can still present evidence related to the dropped charges as they argue that Trump and his allies criminally conspired to try to overturn the election.

The six counts – which also implicate former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Trump campaign attorneys Robert Cheeley, John Eastman and Ray Smith – were related to an alleged pressure campaign against elected officials, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), members of the Georgia Senate and then-Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R), to undo Trump’s loss in the state.

One of the three charges against Trump that was dropped was related to the phone call Trump and Meadows made to Raffensperger on Jan. 2, 2021, in which Trump told his fellow Republican he wanted to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat in Georgia – a recorded conversation that sparked the investigation into Trump and his allies when it was made public.

The second charge is related to a Dec. 7, 2020, phone call Trump made to Ralston urging him to convene a special session of the legislature to reverse Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state. The third involves a letter Trump sent to Raffensperger in September 2021 calling on the secretary of state to overturn the election “and announce the true winner.”

Trump still faces 10 charges in the case, including violating the state racketeering act and filing false documents.

Steve Sadow, an attorney for Trump, said McAfee “made the correct legal decision.”

“The prosecution failed to make specific allegations of any alleged wrongdoing on those counts,” Sadow said in a statement. “The entire prosecution of President Trump is political, constitutes election interference, and should be dismissed.”

The judge’s decision means Meadows, who has been seeking to move his case to federal court, now faces only a single racketeering charge in the case. James Durham, a lawyer for Meadows, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the legal fight over the charges may not be over. McAfee’s order granted the state a six-month window to “resubmit the case to a grand jury” or to seek an appeal of his order.

A spokesman for Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D), whose office brought the indictment, declined to comment.

The unexpected ruling comes as McAfee is considering motions to disqualify Willis and her office from the election case amid claims that she improperly hired a “boyfriend” to lead the investigation and then took “vacations across the world” with him that he paid for. Willis and Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor she appointed to the case, have vigorously denied any wrongdoing.

McAfee has said he will announce whether Willis should be removed by Friday, but the two-month drama has already been a blow to Willis’s case, with the embarrassing allegations fueling questions about her character and leadership. If McAfee allows her to keep the case, her push to go to trial in August is already sidetracked – with Wednesday’s ruling probably adding even more delays.

The judge’s decision to grant time for Willis to recharge the indictment or appeal his decision prompted speculation that he is leaning against removal, though others said the judge’s decision was a typical statutory move. McAfee, for his part, has declined to comment, except to say that he plans to meet his Friday deadline.

McAfee’s order Wednesday also reduced charges for Giuliani, who like Trump had been charged with 13 counts in the original indictment but now faces 10. “The Court made the correct legal decision on these six counts, and we now look forward to the Court addressing what appears to be major acts of prosecutorial misconduct by both Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade,” Ted Goodman, a spokesman for Giuliani, said in a statement.

Three of the dismissed charges alleged that Giuliani, Smith and Cheeley had illegally solicited members of the Georgia legislature to violate their oaths of office during three public hearings in December 2020 when they pressed lawmakers to call a special session and “unlawfully appoint” an alternate slate of Trump electors.

An attorney for Smith did not respond to a request for comment.

Chris Anulewicz, an attorney for Cheeley, said McAfee’s order recognized some of the “deficiencies” in an indictment that “contains substantial failings that warrant its dismissal as a whole.”

“We look forward to the Court’s resolution of the remaining counts,” he said in a statement.

McAfee’s ruling criticized prosecutors for being “too generic” in their charges when they claimed defendants allegedly solicited the elected officials to violate their oaths to the Georgia constitution and the U.S. Constitution but did not specify which provisions of those constitutions had been violated.

The judge pointed out that Georgia’s constitution varies in detail from the U.S. Constitution, which “contains hundreds of clauses, any one of which can be the subject of a lifetime’s study.”

“The Court’s concern is less that the State has failed to allege sufficient conduct of the Defendants – in fact it has alleged an abundance. However, the lack of detail concerning an essential legal element is, in the undersigned’s opinion, fatal,” McAfee wrote.

“They do not give the Defendants enough information to prepare their defenses intelligently, as the Defendants could have violated the Constitutions and thus the statute in dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct ways,” he wrote.