Donald Trump suffers huge blow as appeals court shoots down immunity defense

Washington DC - Donald Trump is not immune from prosecution as a former president and can face prosecution on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Donald Trump is not immune to prosecution on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Donald Trump is not immune to prosecution on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election.  © Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / POOL / AFP

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the claim that Trump was immune from criminal liability for actions he took as president was "unsupported by precedent, history or the text and structure of the Constitution."

The ruling, which all three judges agreed on, added: "For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution."

The frontrunner for the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination has until February 12 to appeal the decision, which clears the way for special counsel Jack Smith's election subversion case to go ahead.

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Trump had been scheduled to go on trial on March 4, but the district judge overseeing the case was forced to postpone the start of the trial pending a ruling on the immunity issue by the appeals court.

Judge Tanya Chutkan had rejected the defense in December.

Trump could take his appeal straight to the Supreme Court, which is already poised to deliver a crucial verdict on whether he is disqualified from holding public office under the 14th Amendment's so-called insurrection clause.

"If immunity is not granted to a president, every future president who leaves office will be immediately indicted by the opposing party," the 77-year-old's spokesperson, Steven Cheung, told AFP.

Trump's immunity defense leaves judges unconvinced

Trump argued that he was fulfilling his presidential duties when challenging the 2020 election results.
Trump argued that he was fulfilling his presidential duties when challenging the 2020 election results.  © REUTERS

Trump, who has been indicted four times, also faces election interference charges in Georgia and has been indicted in Florida on charges of illegally taking large numbers of top secret documents with him on leaving the White House.

He was impeached twice by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives while in office but acquitted both times.

During arguments last month before the appeals court, all three justices appeared skeptical of the immunity arguments put forward by Trump's lawyer.

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Donald Trump Donald Trump calls political opponents "human scum" on the somber holiday of Memorial Day

"I think it's paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty 'to take care that the laws be faithfully executed' allows him to violate criminal laws," said Judge Karen Henderson, an appointee of former Republican president George H.W. Bush.

Trump's attorney John Sauer told the judges that a president can only be prosecuted for actions taken while in the White House if first impeached and convicted by Congress.

"To authorize the prosecution of a president for his official acts would open a Pandora's Box from which this nation may never recover," Sauer said.

James Pearce, a Justice Department attorney, called that an "extraordinarily frightening" prospect and said it would allow a president to resign before being impeached and escape punishment.

Cover photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / POOL / AFP

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