A federal appeals court dealt former President Donald Trump’s defense a major blow Tuesday when it said he doesn’t have presidential immunity to protect him from charges of election interference in his Washington D.C. case.
“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 a unanimous decision. “But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.”
Two of the judges were appointed by President Joe Biden – J. Michelle Childs and Florence Pan – and one, Karen LeCraft Henderson, by George H.W. Bush.
Trump, an overwhelming favorite to oppose Biden in November trying to return to the White House, had posted Tuesday that presidential immunity was necessary.
“A President of the United States must have Full Immunity in order to properly function and do what has to be done for the good of our Country,” he wrote on Truth Social. “A Nation-destroying ruling like this cannot be allowed to stand. If not overturned, as it should be, this decision would terribly injure not only the Presidency, but the Life, Breath, and Success of our Country. A President will be afraid to act for fear of the opposite Party’s Vicious Retribution after leaving Office. I know from personal experience because I am going through it right now. It will become a Political Weapon used for Election Interference. Even our Elections will be corrupted and under siege. So bad, and so dangerous for our Nation. SAVE PRESIDENTIAL IMMUNITY!”
The judges outlined their concerns about immunity in the decision.
“At bottom, former President Trump’s stance would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches,” they wrote in the decision. “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. We cannot accept that the office of the Presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter. Careful evaluation of these concerns leads us to conclude that there is no functional justification for immunizing former Presidents from federal prosecution in general or for immunizing former President Trump from the specific charges in the Indictment.”
Trump is expected to appeal Tuesday’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team of federal prosecutors charged Trump with four federal counts related to contesting the 2020 election and the storming of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021. The charges include conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction, and conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted, according to the indictment. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
On Friday, Judge Tanya Chutkan delayed the trial date indefinitely from March 4, the day before Super Tuesday. She said a new date would be set “if and when the mandate is returned” from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Prosecutors had asked the Court of Appeals to decide if Trump had presidential immunity from the charges. Oral arguments were heard Jan. 9, with justices questioning Trump’s immunity from prosecution for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump’s legal team said presidents could only be prosecuted if they had already been impeached and convicted by the Senate. Trump, twice impeached twice in the House, was never convicted in the Senate.
The judges asked skeptical questions. Pan asked if a former president could be prosecuted for selling pardons or military secrets. She also asked if a president could be prosecuted for ordering the assassination of a political opponent.