I’m going to take a wild guess here and surmise you haven’t heard about former western North Carolina Congressman and Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows getting a free pass on his voter fraud case. You know, the one where Meadows claimed, for voting purposes, that his primary residence was a rusted mobile home in Macon County.
That’s probably because North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, put out a news release about his decision not to prosecute Meadows, a Republican, on the afternoon of Dec. 30, the Friday before the long New Year’s Eve holiday weekend.
Nakedly strategic? You bet your bippy.
As a longtime journalist, I could explain what this technique means, as I’ve seen it way too many times. But I found that former Democratic congressional candidate Moe Davis, who also worked as an Air Force prosecutor for 25 years, had a, shall we say, more colorful description.
“As everyone who has been involved in politics knows, if you’re going to announce something really shitty, you do it late on a Friday afternoon before a three-day holiday weekend so that the stench has time to dissipate before you return to work the following week and have to face the consequences,” Davis wrote on his Facebook page Dec. 30. “That’s why North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced a short time ago that he’s giving Mark Meadows a belated Christmas gift and giving him impunity for attesting that this mobile home was his place of residence when he voted in the 2020 election.”
For those not in the know, Meadows and his wife, Debra, claimed a rundown trailer in Macon County as their residence for voter registration purposes. Now, Meadows is a pretty wealthy real estate developer, and I’ve seen Debra at political events carrying around a tiny dog in a purse, so I’ve got some serious doubts about them ever actually setting foot in a rusty mobile home, much less actually living there.
So does Morris.
“As I’ve said before, I think a first-year law student could take this case to court and have a pretty good chance of winning,” Davis told me in a phone interview.
“My office has concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt against either Mr. or Mrs. Meadows, so my office will not prosecute this case,” Stein said in the press release. “If further information relevant to the allegations of voter fraud comes to light in any subsequent investigation or prosecution by authorities in other jurisdictions, we reserve the right to reopen this matter.”
In the news release, Stein’s office said “there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges against” Meadows and his wife for voter fraud. Stein said the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation conducted an “extensive investigation” into the cause.
Naked Came the Politics
Personally, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that naked politics came into play here about as much as the law. Sure, Stein, a Democrat, could’ve taken the case to trial, with a mixed chance of securing a conviction, but that would’ve really ticked off the state’s Republican voters.
We all know the AG’s office has been the pathway to the Governor’s Mansion in North Carolina, and Stein is an ambitious guy.
So, option two: Let the matter drop and tick off the relatively few Democrats actually paying attention to this and hope they forget by 2024.
Western Carolina University political scientist Chris Cooper read the AG Office’s report and followed the Meadows case closely. Like Davis, he’s disappointed in the AG’s decision not to prosecute.
“It sends a message that voter fraud is not prosecutable when committed by people with power,” Cooper said.
“No one believes that Mark and Debbie Meadows ever stayed a night in that trailer,” Cooper said. “There’s no evidence that they owned that trailer. It’s a stupid crime, and it’s not going to change the outcome of any election, but that doesn’t make it not a crime.”
Cooper takes Stein’s press release and the report as sort of a “wink and a nod,” a case of, “We know he did it, but it’s just not a big enough deal to prosecute it.”
To be fair, Stein’s investigators, in the Case Declination Summary, did allow that, “The Scaly Mountain mobile home was different in kind from other homes Mr. and Mrs. Meadows have owned in North Carolina.”
The couple had previously lived in the Sapphire community in Transylvania, and I’m guessing not in a trailer.
I asked Stein’s office for comment on his timing of the press release, and offered to talk over the phone about the bigger picture, but his press office declined.
In Meadows’ defense…
The declination summary has a lot of information in it about the case. Written by Leslie Cooley Dismukes, Criminal Bureau chief, and Boz Zellinger, section head for Special Prosecutions and Law Enforcement, it lays out details of the investigation and factors weighing for and against the Meadowses.
In their favor, they did have a lease for the Scaly Mountain address, signed on Sept. 21, 2020. However, the Meadowses had signed a voter registration form on Sept. 19, indicating they “were moving to the residence in Scaly Mountain” the next day.
The couple had “abandoned” their home in Sapphire, meaning they no longer lived there. Cell phone data also indicated Mrs. Meadows “was in and around Scaly Mountain in October of 2020,” and, “Witness statements place Mrs. Meadows and her children at the residence in October of 2020.”
On the flip side, the declination report also noted that Meadows and his wife lived in Alexandria, Virginia, while he served in Congress and later as chief of staff to former President Donald Trump.
“Mr. Meadows was almost certainly never physically present at the Scaly Mountain address,” the report states. Also, neither one of the Meadowses changed their driver’s license address to Scaly Mountain.
Still, the criminal investigators wrote, to prove a felony occurred “we would need to demonstrate that they knowingly swore to false information on their voter forms.” To secure a misdemeanor conviction, they would have to “demonstrate that the information on the elections forms was false.”
“On the facts available to us at the current time, a felony prosecution under these statutes would have a low likelihood of success,” the investigators wrote.
They also noted the laws in these cases are designed to encourage public service and encourage voting by public servants.
“While a person in Mr. Meadows’s position and with his background should be more familiar with the rules and requirements of residence and voting in North Carolina, the law does not distinguish between him and the average citizen when it comes to making a residency determination,” the investigators wrote.
The Law Should Be Blind
I found this sentence interesting, too: “In the end, it should not matter whether the challenged voter is the White House Chief of Staff or a Congressional Intern. Absent proof of felonious intent, a prosecution should not proceed.”
Prosecution in that case could have a “chilling effect on both public service and on voting. Public service is one of the most noble professions.”
As conducted by Meadows, a key player in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, I’d beg to differ that his public service had any nobility to it.
But back to the report.
Here’s their summation: “Because it is unlikely that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either Mr. or Mrs. Meadows knowingly swore to false information considering the signed lease, and because Mr. Meadows is explicitly excepted from certain residency requirements as a result of his service to the federal government, we decline prosecution of this matter.”
Sending a Terrible Message
Like Cooper, Davis feels the case sends a bad message to the general public.
In his post, Davis cited a couple of cases of voter fraud prosecutions, including one by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who rounded up people in Florida with felony records who had voted in good faith, believing it was legal. Davis also mentioned the case of “an African-American woman in Texas who doesn’t have the clout Mark Meadows has (and) was sentenced to five years in prison when she voted in good faith in 2016 with a felony on her record.”
“There’s a reason people like Donald Trump and Mark Meadows just sit back and laugh at the law — it doesn’t apply to them,” Davis said.
“Anyone who’s been a prosecutor any period of time has gone to court with cases that were a lot worse than what the evidence appears to be against Mark Meadows,” Davis told me. “What went into the calculation not to proceed, I’m certainly not privy to that, but it certainly has a strong odor to it.”
And it will continue to stink for a long time.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org