A federal appeals panel has ruled that former President Donald Trump can face trial on charges of plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The decision rejects Trump's claim of immunity from prosecution and marks the second time in as many months that judges have held that he can be prosecuted for actions taken while in the White House and leading up to the events of January 6, 2021.
Setting the Stage for Additional Appeals
While this decision allows the trial to proceed, it also sets the stage for potential appeals from the former president. These appeals could ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The trial, originally scheduled for March, was recently postponed, and a new date has not yet been set.
Political Ramifications Ahead of the November Election
The trial date carries significant political ramifications, with Trump, a front-runner in the Republican primary, hoping to delay it until after the November election. If Trump were to win against President Joe Biden, he could potentially use his position as head of the executive branch to order a new attorney general to dismiss the federal cases against him. Another possibility could be seeking a pardon for himself.
The Appeals Court Takes Center Stage
The appeals court played a prominent role in this immunity dispute after the Supreme Court declined to intervene last month. Jack Smith, the special counsel, had requested an expedited ruling from the Supreme Court, but the request was rejected. The central question before the court was whether former presidents can be prosecuted for actions taken in the White House after leaving office.
Unresolved Legal Question
The issue of whether former presidents can be prosecuted for actions taken in their official capacities while in office remains legally untested. Trump's lawyers have argued that the immunity granted to presidents for civil liability should extend to criminal prosecution as well. They claim that Trump's actions in his attempt to retain power after losing the 2020 election, including pressuring his vice president to refuse certification of the election results, fall within the scope of his official acts.
However, Smith's team argues that neither the U.S. Constitution nor previous cases establish such immunity. Furthermore, they contend that Trump's actions were not part of his official duties as president.
Title: U.S. District Judge Rejects Trump's Claims of Immunity, Supreme Court Declines to Intervene
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, presiding over the case, has dismissed former President Donald Trump's arguments that the office of the president grants him immunity from prosecution. In a December 1 opinion, Judge Chutkan stated that the presidency "does not confer a lifelong 'get-out-of-jail-free' pass."
Following this decision, Trump's lawyers turned to the D.C. appeals court. However, Chief Judge Merrick Garland, on behalf of the court, requested the Supreme Court to intervene first. The aim was to secure a prompt and definitive ruling, as well as preserve the trial date set for March 4. The Supreme Court refused the request, leaving the matter in the hands of the appeals court.
The case was argued before Judges Florence Pan and J. Michelle Childs, both appointed by President Joe Biden, a Democrat. Also present was Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, a nominee of President George H.W. Bush, a Republican. During the arguments last month, the judges demonstrated skepticism towards Trump's claims. They posed various hypothetical situations and difficult questions to challenge his legal theory of immunity. One such hypothetical involved a scenario where a president commanded Navy commandos to assassinate a political rival.
Trump's attorney, D. John Sauer, responded affirmatively, stating that a president could indeed be prosecuted under such circumstances. However, he clarified that this would only hold true if the president had been first impeached and convicted by Congress. This aligns with the legal team's belief that ex-presidents who have been impeached but subsequently acquitted, like Trump, cannot be prosecuted according to the Constitution.
The case taking place in Washington is one of four criminal prosecutions currently faced by Trump as he pursues a return to the White House. He also faces federal charges in Florida regarding the alleged illegal retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. This case, brought forward by Smith, is scheduled for trial in May. Additionally, Trump is charged in state court in Georgia with orchestrating efforts to undermine the state's 2020 election. Furthermore, he faces charges in New York related to hush money payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels. Trump has consistently denied any wrongdoing.