Georgia judge denies Trump’s latest bid to dismiss election interference case

Former president’s attorneys argued that his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud in Georgia were protected under the First Amendment

Ariana Baio
Thursday 04 April 2024 19:33 BST
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A Georgia judge has rejected Donald Trump and his co-defendants’ attempt to dismiss the state election interference trial for violating their right to free speech.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee on Thursday denied the defendant’s latest attempt to delay or dismiss the case, saying the unsubstantiated claims of election fraud that the defendants made were allegedly, “in furtherance of criminal activity and constitute false statements knowingly and willfully made in matters within a government agency’s jurisdiction which threaten to deceive and harm the government.”

Mr Trump and 17 co-defendants were indicted last year for, among a slew of alleged crimes, violating state racketeering laws for participating in a scheme to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in the state with a so-called “fake elector” scheme.

Four of those original co-defendants have reached plea deals with prosecutors.

In March, Mr Trump’s attorneys argued that the charges in the case should be dismissed because his claims of election fraud in Georgia were “political speech” and “expressive conduct” and therefore protected from government regulation and criminal prosecution.

Judge McAfee said those and “even core political speech addressing matters of public concern” were not “impenetrable” from prosecution if they allegedly furthered criminal activity.

Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides in court, Friday, March, 1, 2024, in Atlanta
Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee presides in court, Friday, March, 1, 2024, in Atlanta (AP)

He added that the allegations that the defendant’s speech was conducted with criminal intent “are something only a jury can resolve” meaning the defendants could bring forward their motion again but only when the facts of the case are established.

In response to the judge’s decision, Steve Sadow, a lawyer for Mr Trump, said, they disagree with the ruling but will “continue to evaluate [our] options regarding the First Amendment challenges.”

The motion to dismiss on First Amendment claims is the latest in Mr Trump’s attempts to delay or dismiss the multitude of criminal cases against him.

The former president and his co-defendants already tried to delay the Georgia election interference case by raising concerns about District Attorney Fani Willis’ relationship with a former prosecutor on the case, Nathan Wade.

A trial date has not been set, but Ms Willis suggested an August start date.

That suggestion is unlikely to remain given the former president is also facing a criminal trial in Washington DC for federal election interference and in Florida for allegedly retaining classified documents. Dates in those cases have not been set but both were slated to take place this year.

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