Judges Torch Trump Immunity Claim: ‘He Is Answerable in Court for His Conduct’ – Rolling Stone
By Nikki McCann Ramirez
Donald Trump’s bid for presidential immunity in his federal election interference case has been summarily rejected by D.C.’s Federal Court of Appeals — and the issue could be headed to the Supreme Court.
In a ruling issued Tuesday, the three-judge panel, which heard oral arguments in the case last month, unanimously determined that Trump is not shielded from prosecution for potential crimes committed in office related to the subversion of the 2020 election.
“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 panel wrote. “But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects.”
“Former President Trump lacked any lawful discretionary authority to defy federal criminal law and he is answerable in court for his conduct,” the judges added.
Trump is expected to appeal the ruling, which would send the question to the nation’s highest court. He has until Feb. 12 to do so.
The former president seemed to presage Tuesday’s ruling in an early morning post on Truth Social. “IF IMMUNITY IS NOT GRANTED TO A PRESIDENT, EVERY PRESIDENT THAT LEAVES OFFICE WILL BE IMMEDIATELY INDICTED BY THE OPPOSING PARTY,” he wrote. “WITHOUT COMPLETE IMMUNITY, A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO PROPERLY FUNCTION!”
Trump sought this legal “get out jail free” card as a way to undermine the Justice Department’s ongoing election interference case against him. In August, Trump was charged with offenses related to his efforts to sabotage Joe Biden’s 2020 election, including his role in fomenting the violent riot that took place in the Capitol on Jan. 6. As it stands, the conflict over immunity could delay the official start of Trump’s trial, which is scheduled to begin on March 4.
D.C. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the Justice Department’s case against the former president, had previously ruled against Trump’s bid to have the charges against him thrown out. Trump appealed her decision, and in December the Supreme Court declined a request from Special Counsel Jack Smith for an expedited ruling on the question of presidential immunity, instead sending the president’s appeal back to the lower court.
During oral arguments before D.C.’s appeals courts, Trump’s attorneys claimed that — under their extremely convoluted interpretation of existing law — that a president could only be tried for a crime committed while in office only if he was first impeached and convicted by the Senate.
The example used in court was extreme. Judge Florence Y. Pan, a member of the three-appellate judge panel that will rule on the question, asked Trump attorney John Sauer if — hypothetically — a president could order S.E.A.L. Team Six to assassinate their political rival and still retain immunity. “If he were impeached and convicted first…my answer is [a] qualified yes, there is a political process that would have to occur first,” Sauer responded.
Trump doubled down on his assertion that presidents should just be able to do whatever they want without legal consequences in a Truth Social post last month. “EVEN EVENTS THAT ‘CROSS THE LINE’ MUST FALL UNDER TOTAL IMMUNITY, OR IT WILL BE YEARS OF TRAUMA TRYING TO DETERMINE GOOD FROM BAD,” Trump wrote.
The desire to spare the president “trauma” because he can’t figure out the difference between legal and illegal acts is unlikely to sway a judge, but the former president insisted in his post that without widespread immunity a president would lack the “authority and decisiveness” necessary for his role. “Sometimes you just have to live with ‘great but slightly imperfect,’” Trump added.
Granting a sitting president such comprehensive immunity would have extreme ramifications for the public’s ability to seek accountability from their elected officials.
We want to hear it. Send us a tip using our anonymous form.
Rolling Stone is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2024 Rolling Stone, LLC. All rights reserved.