Appeals Court Rejects Trump Claim Of Immunity From Prosecution
Donald Trump has no immunity from prosecution as a former president and can be tried on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, a federal appeals court said Tuesday in a landmark ruling.
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said Trump’s claim that he enjoys “absolute immunity” from criminal liability for actions he took while in the White House is “unsupported by precedent, history or the text and structure of the Constitution.”
The ruling is a major legal setback for Trump, 77, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, and a spokesman for the former Republican president said he would appeal “in order to safeguard the Presidency and the Constitution.”
“If immunity is not granted to a President, every future President who leaves office will be immediately indicted by the opposing party,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said. “Without complete immunity, a President of the United States would not be able to properly function!”
The appeals court put the immunity ruling on hold until Monday to allow Trump to appeal to the US Supreme Court, which can decide whether to take the case or allow the appeals court ruling to stand.
Trump had been set to go on trial in Washington on March 4 on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden but the district judge overseeing the case was forced to postpone the start of the trial pending a ruling on the immunity issue by the appeals court.
District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is to preside over Trump’s election interference trial, rejected Trump’s immunity claim in December and the judges who heard his appeal last month were also unconvinced by his arguments.
“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defences of any other criminal defendant,” the three appellate court judges said in their unanimous ruling.
“But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution,” they said.
Special Counsel Jack Smith, who brought the election conspiracy case against Trump, the first former US president to face criminal indictment, had been trying to keep the March start date for the trial on track.
Lawyers for the former president have sought repeatedly to delay it until after the November presidential election when Trump could potentially have all of the federal cases against him dropped if he wins reelection.
Trump also faces 2020 election interference charges in the state of Georgia and has been indicted in Florida on charges of illegally taking large numbers of top secret documents with him on leaving the White House.
Trump was impeached twice by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives while in office but acquitted both times by the Senate.
During arguments last month before the appeals court, all three justices appeared skeptical of the immunity arguments put forward by Trump’s lawyer.
“I think it’s paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty ‘to take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ allows him to violate criminal laws,” said Judge Karen Henderson, an appointee of former Republican president George H.W. Bush.
Trump’s attorney John Sauer told the judges that a president can only be prosecuted for actions taken while in the White House if first impeached and convicted by Congress.
“To authorize the prosecution of a president for his official acts would open a Pandora’s Box from which this nation may never recover,” Sauer said.
The Supreme Court is already scheduled to hear another important election-related case this week.
The Colorado Supreme Court barred Trump in December from appearing on the Republican presidential primary ballot in the state because of his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Trump appealed the Colorado ruling and the conservative-majority Supreme Court, which includes three justices appointed by the former president, is to hear oral arguments in the case on Thursday.