Trump does not have presidential immunity, court rules

By John Mercury February 7, 2024

Donald Trump does not have presidential immunity and can be prosecuted in an election interference case, a US appeals court has ruled.

The court in Washington ruled that there was no basis for Mr Trump to assert that former presidents have blanket immunity from prosecution for any acts committed as president.

The ruling means he can be prosecuted for actions he took while in the White House from January 2017 and in the run-up to 6 January 2021, when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol.

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‘See you on the trail’

It is the second time in as many months that judges have rejected his claims to be exempt from prosecution.

Writing on his Truth Social platform, Mr Trump described the court’s ruling as “nation-destroying” and said it “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,” he added.

“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!”

Trump’s strategy for all his legal cases is to delay – Analysis

In the 57-page ruling from the three Washington DC Appeal Court judges, two particular sentences stick out.

The judges write: “… former President Trump’s stance would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches.”

They continue: “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.”

In short – they conclude that it’s mad to suggest that any President could be immune from prosecution.

They have given Mr Trump until early next week to appeal. Expect that to happen, and for the Supreme Court of the United States to consider whether to take the case.

Should they choose to dodge this hottest of political potatoes, then the case against the former President for his alleged involvement in the January 6th riots on Capitol Hill goes ahead.

Mr Trump’s strategy for all his legal cases is to delay. He knows that his appearances in courtrooms across the country drive his polling numbers. His extensive support base across the country is consistently emboldened by his notion of a ‘witch-hunt’ against him.

But that positive polling among Republican loyalists shifts when applied to the general election and when the prospect of a convicted President Trump is floated.

It seems that while a majority of Republicans might be comfortable with a candidate who is being hauled through the courts, they are less positive about supporting a convicted candidate.

And when you broaden that polling out to include independent voters, the issue of conviction becomes even more pronounced.

And so ‘delay’ is Mr Trump’s tactic. If he can delay the trials beyond the election, he thinks it will help him win the White House – and could he then throw out the cases?

The Republican, who is the overwhelming favourite to be nominated to run again in November, is expected to appeal and the case may ultimately be decided in the US Supreme Court.

The judges wrote in their decision: “We conclude that the interest in criminal accountability, held by both the public and the executive branch, outweighs the potential risks of chilling presidential action and permitting vexatious litigation.”

They did not set a date for a trial, which was originally set for next month, before being postponed last week.

The date is politically significant, as Mr Trump would prefer to delay it until after the US general election in November.

If his nomination is confirmed and he defeats Democrat president Joe Biden, he could presumably try to use his position as head of the executive branch to order a new attorney general to dismiss the federal cases or he could potentially seek a pardon for himself.

Supporters of Donald Trump at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Pic: AP
Image:
Supporters of Donald Trump at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Pic: AP

Last month, the Supreme Court turned down a chance to get involved, by rejecting a request from special counsel Jack Smith to take up the matter quickly and issue a speedy ruling.

The court has previously decided presidents are immune from civil liability for official acts, and Mr Trump’s lawyers have for months argued that that protection should be extended to criminal prosecution as well.

Read more:
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All you need to know about Trump’s legal cases
Three years on from 6 January Capitol riots

In December, US district judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over the case, rejected Mr Trump’s arguments, stating that presidents do not have “a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass.”

It is one of four criminal prosecutions Mr Trump is battling as he tries to reclaim the White House, which he lost to Mr Biden in 2020.

He faces federal charges in Florida that he illegally retained classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and is set for trial in May.

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He is also charged in state court in Georgia with scheming to subvert that state’s 2020 election, and in New York in connection with hush money payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Trump has continued campaigning despite his legal difficulties, frequently telling supporters he is the victim of a “witch hunt”.

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