A US federal appeals panel ruled on Tuesday that Donald Trump can face trial on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election, rejecting the former president’s claims that he is immune from prosecution.
The decision marks the second time in as many months that judges have dismissed Trump’s immunity arguments and held that he can be prosecuted for actions taken while he was in the White House and in the period leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, when A mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol. But he also lays the groundwork for additional appeals by the former Republican president that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The trial was originally scheduled for March, but was postponed last week and the judge did not immediately set a new date.
The trial date carries huge political ramifications, and the Republican primary front-runner hopes to delay it until after the November elections. If Trump defeats 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 federal cases or he could seek a pardon for himself.
The appeals court took center stage in the immunity dispute after the Supreme Court said last month that it would at least temporarily stay on the sidelines, rejecting a request from special counsel Jack Smith to take up the matter quickly and issue a quick ruling. .
The legally untested issue before the court was whether former presidents can be prosecuted after leaving office for actions taken in the White House related to their official duties.
The Supreme Court has held that presidents are immune from civil liability for official acts, and Trump’s lawyers have argued for months that that protection should extend to criminal prosecution as well.
They said the actions Trump was accused of in his failed attempt to cling to power after losing the 2020 election to Biden, including bugging his vice president into refusing to certify the election results, all fell within of the “external perimeters” of an official acts of the president.
But Smith’s team has said that there is no such immunity in the US Constitution or in previous cases and that, in any case, Trump’s actions were not part of his official duties.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over the case, rejected Trump’s arguments in a Dec. 1 opinion that said the president’s office “does not grant a get-out-of-jail-free pass for life.”
Trump’s lawyers then appealed to the D.C. appeals court, but Smith asked the Supreme Court to intervene first, hoping to ensure a quick and final ruling and preserve the March 4 trial date. The high court rejected the request and left the matter to the appeals court.
The case was argued before Judges Florence Pan and J. Michelle Childs, appointed by Biden, a Democrat, and Karen LeCraft Henderson, who was appointed to the bench by President George HW Bush, a Republican. The justices made clear their skepticism of Trump’s claims during arguments last month, when they peppered his lawyer with tough questions and posed a series of extreme hypotheses as a way to test his legal theory of immunity, including whether a president who ordered Navy commandos to assassinate a political rival could be prosecuted.
Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer, responded yes, but only if a president had first been impeached and convicted by Congress. That view was in line with the team’s position that the Constitution did not allow for the prosecution of former presidents who had been impeached but later acquitted, like Trump.
The case in Washington is one of four criminal proceedings Trump faces as he seeks to retake the White House this year. He faces federal charges in Florida for illegally retaining classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago property, a case also brought by Smith and scheduled for trial in May. He is also charged in state court in Georgia with conspiring to subvert that state’s 2020 election and in New York in connection with hush payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels. He denied doing anything wrong.
This is a breaking news update. More information to come.