The US Court of Appeals rejected Trump’s sweeping request for immunity

Written by Andrew Godward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that Donald Trump is not immune from charges that he planned to overturn his 2020 election defeat, bringing the former U.S. president a step closer to an unprecedented criminal trial.

A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected Trump’s claim that he could not be prosecuted because the allegations relate to his official responsibilities as president.

“We cannot accept that the Office of the Presidency will place its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter,” the panel wrote unanimously.

The court concluded that any “executive immunity” that may have protected Trump from criminal charges while he was president “no longer protects him from this prosecution.”

The ruling, which Trump is almost certain to appeal, rejects his attempt to avoid trial on charges of undermining American democracy and the transfer of power, even as he works to consolidate his position as the front-runner to win the Republican presidential nomination.

The case will remain on hold until at least February 12 to give Trump time to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that former presidents are entitled to sweeping legal protections and cannot be criminally prosecuted for official acts unless they are first impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate.

Trump was impeached twice by the House of Representatives, but each time Senate Republicans cast enough votes to acquit him of the charges.

Immunity from assassination

The justices focused on the general nature of Trump’s claim at the Jan. 9 hearing, questioning Trump’s lawyers about whether even a president who ordered military commandos to assassinate a political rival could escape criminal prosecution without initial action by Congress.

Granting Trump immunity in this case would give presidents “unlimited power to commit crimes that would neutralize the most basic checks on executive power — recognizing and enforcing election results,” the committee wrote in its ruling.

Trump has repeatedly expressed his claim for immunity on the campaign trail and social media, saying in a January 18 post, “All presidents must have full and total presidential immunity, or the President of the United States will be stripped of his power and judgment.” Gone forever.”

Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The indictment filed by Special Counsel Jack Smith accuses Trump of using false claims of voter fraud to pressure state lawmakers, Justice Department officials and then-Vice President Mike Pence to thwart the certification of the election results. It is one of four criminal cases facing Trump and one of two alleging interference in the 2020 election.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges and accused prosecutors of politically motivated efforts to harm his campaign.

US District Judge Tanya Chutkan previously rejected the immunity argument in December, prompting Trump to appeal.

If Trump wins the election, he may seek to pardon himself or direct the Justice Department to close the case.

Trump could ask the full D.C. Circuit Court and the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling, which could result in weeks or months of additional delay.

(Reporting by Andrew Godward; Additional reporting by Nathan Lane and Jonathan Stemple; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)

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