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Appeals court denies ex-president immunity

Former US President Donald Trump speaks to the media at one of his properties, 40 Wall Street, following closing arguments in his civil fraud trial on January 11, 2024 in New York City.

Spencer Platt | fake images

Former President Donald Trump does not have presidential immunity from prosecution on criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, a federal appeals court ruled unanimously Tuesday.

“We have balanced former President Trump’s asserted interests in executive immunity with the vital public interests favoring allowing this prosecution to continue,” the three-judge panel wrote in the 57-page opinion.

“We conclude that ‘public policy concerns, especially as illuminated by our history and the structure of our government’ compel us to reject his claim of immunity in this case,” the panel wrote in affirming a trial judge’s ruling on the question.

Trump is expected to quickly ask the Supreme Court to overturn the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

In its ruling, the appeals panel rejected three separate immunity arguments that Trump’s lawyers presented “both as a categorical defense to federal criminal proceedings against former presidents and as applied to this particular case.”

“For the purposes of this criminal case, former President Trump has become a Trump citizen, with all the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the panel wrote.

“But any executive immunity that may have protected him while serving as president no longer protects him against this prosecution.”

The legal battle over Trump’s immunity claim arises from the criminal election interference case being prosecuted by special counsel Jack Smith in the US District Court in Washington, DC.

Trump is charged in the case with four counts of crimes, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. He has pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys, seeking to dismiss the case, had argued before Judge Tanya Chutkan that Trump has “absolute immunity” from prosecution because the charges relate to official acts taken while he was president.

After Chutkan refused to dismiss the charges, Trump’s lawyers took the immunity argument to the appeals court. That measure put the case on hold in the Chutkan court.

Smith, seeking to avoid a protracted legal dispute that could delay Trump’s trial, pleaded with the Supreme Court to quickly address the dispute. The high court refused to do so, sending the matter back to the appeals court.

The immunity battle has already affected the case’s schedule: While awaiting the appeals court’s ruling, Chutkan overturned the previously scheduled March 4 trial date.

Smith alleges that Trump, using false allegations of election fraud as a pretext, attempted to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory through multiple criminal conspiracies. These allegedly include organizing lists of illegitimate pro-Trump electors in states that Biden won, attempting to use the Department of Justice to conduct “sham” investigations of electoral crimes, and challenging the count of legitimate electoral votes on January 6, 2021.

Trump called the case a “witch hunt” and claimed it was aimed at damaging his 2024 presidential campaign.

Read more CNBC political coverage

This is breaking news. Please check for updates.

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