Donald Trump isn't immune from prosecution: appeals court – Business Insider
Former President Donald Trump is not immune from criminal prosecution in the special counsel Jack Smith’s election-interference case, a Washington, DC, appeals-court panel ruled Tuesday.
Trump was charged with four federal counts over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The case is one of four criminal cases the former president faces.
Smith’s office also brought charges against Trump in connection to his handling of classified information. Trump has also been indicted in Manhattan and Fulton County, Georgia.
Trump’s team is expected to appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court.
The nation’s high court — which has a 6-3 conservative majority — rejected a request from Smith to fast-track Trump’s absolute-immunity case, refusing to bypass the appeals court. The former president’s criminal trial in the election-interference case had been scheduled to kick off in March but is no longer.
Tuesday’s appeals-court ruling and a Supreme Court showdown on the matter could have massive constitutional and political implications.
“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the three-judge panel wrote in its 57-page opinion. “But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.”
The panel added in its decision, “We cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a President has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power — the recognition and implementation of election results.
“Nor can we sanction his apparent contention that the Executive has carte blanche to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and to have their votes count.”
The three-judge panel said Trump’s stance on presidential immunity “would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches.”
“Presidential immunity against federal indictment would mean that, as to the President, the Congress could not legislate, the Executive could not prosecute and the Judiciary could not review,” the judges wrote. “We cannot accept that the office of the Presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter.”
Steven Cheung, a Trump-campaign spokesperson, blasted the appeals court ruling in a statement, arguing that if immunity was not granted to a president, “every future President who leaves office will be immediately indicted by the opposing party.”
“Without complete immunity, a President of the United States would not be able to properly function!” Cheung said in the statement, which called Smith “deranged” and his prosecution of Trump “unconstitutional.”
Cheung added, “Prosecuting a President for official acts violates the Constitution and threatens the bedrock of our Republic.
“President Trump respectfully disagrees with the DC Circuit’s decision and will appeal it in order to safeguard the Presidency and the Constitution.”
Trump had a sweeping victory in the Iowa caucuses and is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. That would set him up for a rematch with President Joe Biden this year.
The Supreme Court will be in uncharted territory if it agrees to take up an appeal. And if Trump is convicted in Smith’s case and elected for a second term, it would mark another unprecedented moment in US history: the first time the country had a president-elect who was convicted of a felony.
The scenario could also test the limits of the presidential pardon as Trump could try to pardon himself.
Trump also faces a felony trial in his Manhattan hush-money case. That state-level business-fraud indictment may now be the first criminal case to go to trial. Jury selection for that case is scheduled for March 25.
Tuesday’s appeals-court ruling came after the panel last month grilled Trump’s legal team about the merits of its argument that Trump couldn’t be prosecuted for a crime unless he was first impeached and convicted by Congress for it.
It culminated in Judge Florence Pan posing a series of hypotheticals to Trump’s lawyer D. John Sauer, and Sauer saying a former president could not be criminally prosecuted for selling pardons or military secrets if he wasn’t first impeached for it.
He also refused to say whether a president could be prosecuted for ordering SEAL Team Six to assassinate a rival if he wasn’t impeached first.
“He would have to be, and would, speedily be impeached and convicted before the criminal prosecution — ” Sauer began in January, but Pan cut him off.
“I asked you a yes or no question,” she said. “Could a president who ordered SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival, who was not impeached, would he be subject to criminal prosecution?”
“If he were impeached and convicted first, and so — ” Sauer began.
“So your answer is no,” Pan said.
The judges also then pointed out that Trump’s legal team was now arguing the exact opposite of what his defense lawyers argued when he was impeached following the Capitol riot in 2021.
His attorneys argued at the time that Trump should not be impeached and should face the courts instead.