Trump not immune to prosecution in 2020 election interference case, appeals court rules

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that former President Donald Trump is not immune from prosecution on charges that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

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Trump, who faces charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, violence at the U.S. Capitol, had argued that he is immune from prosecution because the charges stem from conduct that fell within his official responsibilities as president. Special counsel Jack Smith’s office has said that the president is not entitled to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday sided with Smith, finding that Trump does not have immunity.

“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all 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 panel said in its opinion.

The court determined that if it agreed with Trump, it would have had to “decide for the first time that a former President is categorically immune from federal criminal prosecution for any act conceivably within the outer perimeter of his executive responsibility.” It rejected Trump’s arguments that a decision against the former president “risks chilling Presidential action while in office and opening the floodgates to meritless and harassing prosecution,” finding that such concerns were outweighed by the public interest.

“It would be a striking paradox if the President, who alone is vested with the constitutional duty to ‘take Care that the Laws are faithfully executed,’ were the sole officer capable of defying those laws with impunity,” the opinion read.

In a statement, a Trump campaign spokesperson said the former president will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which earlier declined to fast-track the case.

“Prosecuting a President for official acts violates the Constitution and threatens the bedrock of our Republic,” Steven Cheung said in a statement obtained by The Hill. He added that Trump “respectfully disagrees with the DC Circuit’s decision.”

Trump’s attorney, John Sauer, last month argued in court that presidents can only face criminal charges if they are first impeached and convicted by Congress, and that operating otherwise would “open a Pandora’s box from which this nation may never recover.”

Assistant special counsel James Pearce argued that granting immunity to a president past their time in office was unprecedented, saying, “The president has a unique constitutional role, but he is not above the law.”

Trump has until Monday to appeal the court’s decision with an automatic stay of the ruling, court records show.

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