Judge dismisses Trump's First Amendment challenge to Georgia election indictment.

Atlanta— Donald Trump and others' Georgia election meddling case judge rejected the former president's Thursday claim that the indictment criminalizes First Amendment-protected political speech.  

After the Republican incumbent narrowly lost Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden, a Fulton County grand jury indicted Trump and 18 people in August for a wide-ranging plan to fraudulently reverse the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s defenders contended that all claims against him involved free political speech, even if false  

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee wrote that at this pretrial stage, he must favor the prosecution's indictment language. He noted that Trump and others are being charged with purposefully and knowingly harming the government, not just making false assertions. “Even core political speech addressing matters of public concern is not impenetrable from prosecution if allegedly used to further criminal activity,” the judge concluded.

He said even First Amendment-protected speech might support a conviction under Georgia's anti-racketeering law, which prosecutors utilized in this instance. McAfee did allow Trump and others to make similar arguments “at the appropriate time after the establishment of a factual record.”

Trump's Georgia main attorney, Steve Sadow, wrote in an email that Trump and the other defendants “respectfully disagree with Judge McAfee's order and will continue to evaluate their options regarding the First Amendment challenges.” He said that McAfee said they might discuss their issues later.  

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis' spokesperson declined comment. McAfee's order mirrors special counsel Jack Smith's federal election interference finding against Trump. In December, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said, “it is well established that the First Amendment does not protect speech that is used as an instrument of a crime.”  

McAfee also denied Trump co-defendant and former Georgia Republican Party chairman David Shafer's requests to strike key allegations and phrases from the indictment. Shafer is accused of helping Georgia Republicans submit Electoral College votes for Trump after the state's election was certified for Biden.

His lawyers claim that “duly elected and qualified presidential electors,” “false Electoral College votes” and “lawful electoral votes” are used to claim that the Democratic slate was genuine and the Republican slate was not. The lawyers called those “prejudicial legal conclusions” about trial matters that should be addressed by the judge or jury.  

McAfee concluded that “the challenged language is not prejudicial because it accurately describes the alleged offenses and makes the charges more easily understood by distinguishing the allegedly lawful and unlawful acts of presidential electors (as theorized by the State.)” He observed that jurors are constantly told indictments are not evidence.  

Shafer attorney Craig Gillen declined to discuss litigation. The massive Georgia case, one of four criminal proceedings against Trump as he pursues reelection, has no trial date, although Willis has requested an August start. Four persons have pled guilty after negotiating with prosecutors. Trump and the remaining defendants deny wrongdoing.  

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