Judge rejects Trump’s effort to dismiss Georgia charges on First Amendment grounds

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The judge presiding over Donald Trump’s criminal case in Georgia denied his bid to throw out the case on First Amendment grounds, rejecting the former president’s longshot argument that the entire case is an attempt to criminalize his political speech.

"The State has alleged more than mere expressions of a political nature,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee wrote in a 14-page ruling on Thursday.

Trump had claimed that the case, in which he and numerous allies are charged with a racketeering conspiracy to subvert the 2020 election in Georgia, amounted to an unconstitutional attempt to punish them for petitioning Congress to consider counting a set of “alternate” electors for Trump, even though Joe Biden was the certified winner of the state.

But McAfee said Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis alleged that Trump’s conduct went beyond merely protected speech. Rather, she charged him and his allies with lying to government officials and filing knowingly false documents that influenced the actions of state and federal officials.

“The defense has not presented, nor is the Court able to find, any authority that the speech and conduct alleged is protected political speech,” McAfee ruled.

Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow said the former president and his co-defendants “respectfully disagree with Judge McAfee’s order” and are weighing appeal options.

It’s the first substantive victory for Willis in weeks, after the case had been significantly sidetracked by the defendants’ efforts to disqualify her from the case.

Last month, McAfee threw out several charges that alleged that Trump and some of his co-defendants sought to cause government officials to violate their oaths of office. The judge concluded that the allegations supporting those charges were too vague, but the core of the indictment remains intact. It’s unclear if Willis will seek to refile the dismissed charges with more details.

The Georgia case against Trump remains on an uncertain timeline, with no trial date set, despite Willis’ call for an August start date.