ATLANTA — The South Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered Mark Meadows, a White House chief of staff under Donald J. Trump, to testify in the criminal investigation into efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn his November 2020 election loss in Georgia.
In a three-paragraph written opinion, the court pointedly said Mr. Meadows’s legal efforts to avoid participating in the investigation were “manifestly without merit.”
Mr. Meadows, 63, is one of three well-known Trump allies — in addition to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the former national security adviser Michael Flynn — who have been trying to fend off subpoenas ordering them to testify before a special grand jury in Atlanta. Those efforts are part of a broader endeavor by a number of Trump’s allies to avoid cooperating in the Georgia investigation. That attempt has been met with mixed results. Last week, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina testified after a protracted legal fight that was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The special grand jury is considering whether Mr. Trump and others broke state laws by, among other actions, spreading falsehoods about election fraud and pressuring state officials to consider changing the results of Georgia’s presidential election, which Mr. Trump lost by fewer than 12,000 votes.
Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Flynn were ordered to travel to Atlanta to testify by judges in their respective home states of Virginia and Florida, and they have appealed those decisions.
Mr. Meadows, a former Republican representative from North Carolina, was deeply involved in efforts to keep Mr. Trump in power. Congressional hearings into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol showed that he repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to conduct investigations based on Mr. Trump’s unfounded theories about election improprieties around the country.
Prosecutors say the special grand jury has evidence that Mr. Meadows set up and participated in the now infamous recorded phone call on Jan. 2, 2021, in which Mr. Trump can be heard telling Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, that he wanted to “find” the 11,780 votes that would allow him to win in Georgia. In December 2020, Mr. Meadows made a surprise visit to Cobb County, Ga., to try to view an election audit that was in progress there. He was told by local officials that he was not authorized to see it.
Like Mr. Flynn and Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Meadows has argued that he does not have to testify on the grounds that the Georgia special grand jury should be considered civil, not criminal, in nature. That, he argues, makes the subpoena unenforceable under an agreement among states that allows them to secure the attendance of out-of-state witnesses for criminal investigations.
This legal strategy was successfully employed in Texas, where it found favor with a majority of members of that state’s Court of Criminal Appeals, and that most likely explains why a number of Texas-based witnesses who received subpoenas in the Georgia case have not appeared in court.
In South Carolina, however, a lower court judge rejected Mr. Meadows’s argument in late October. Later, a group of current and former prosecutors filed an amicus brief arguing that if the state’s Supreme Court accepted Mr. Meadows’s argument it would “undermine interstate comity and the effectiveness of law enforcement across state borders, not just between South Carolina and its neighbor Georgia, but nationwide.”
Mr. Meadows was originally scheduled to testify on Wednesday, but that appointment will most likely be pushed back. A spokesman for Mr. Meadows’s lawyer declined to comment on Tuesday, as did a spokesman for Fani T. Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., who is heading up the investigation.
Danny Hakim contributed reporting.