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Georgia judge rejects Trump's 1st Amendment claim

The judge overseeing former President Trump’s Georgia election interference case rejected his attempt to toss the charges under the First Amendment on Thursday.

Trump and some of his co-defendants had contended their charges must be tossed because their efforts to contest the 2020 election comprised constitutionally protected “core political speech.” 

“Even core political speech addressing matters of public concern is not impenetrable from prosecution if allegedly used to further criminal activity,” Judge Scott McAfee wrote in the 14-page ruling.

McAfee said only a jury can decide the question of whether the speech at issue was carried out with criminal intent. His ruling leaves open the possibility that Trump could still raise a First Amendment defense down the road, once the factual record is more developed. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) last summer indicted Trump and more than a dozen of his allies on charges of entering a months-long criminal conspiracy to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia. Trump pleaded not guilty, and a trial date has not yet been set. 

The DA’s office declined to comment on McAfee’s latest ruling.

Trump lawyer Steve Sadow made Trump’s argument to McAfee at a hearing last week, claiming that any speech tied to elections or campaigns have always been found to be at the “zenith of protected speech.”

Because of that, the state charges Trump and his co-defendants face — including Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act charges — should never have been brought, he said.

“Take out the protected speech, and you don’t have an underlying basis for which to charge him,” Sadow said.

Trump and his co-defendants still have various other pending motions seeking to toss their charges without a trial.

Those efforts include Trump’s presidential immunity defense, which is likely to be impacted by the Supreme Court’s ruling on Trump’s near-identical defense to his federal election interference indictment brought in Washington, D.C.

“President Trump and other defendants respectfully disagree with Judge McAfee’s order and will continue to evaluate their options regarding the First Amendment challenges,” Sadow said in a statement, emphasizing how Trump could again raise some of his claims at a later time. 

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