The District of Columbia’s federal appeals court rejected former President Donald Trump’s claim of immunity from prosecution for alleged criminal acts committed in his attempt to overturn the 2020 election, which ultimately culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Trump is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court in an effort to halt the trial. The Supreme Court has until Feb. 12 to decide whether to hear the case and expedite a ruling.
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Trump can no longer assert blanket immunity as a former president, stating that “for the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant.” This ruling is a significant blow to Trump’s legal strategy, as he has argued that criminal liability for former presidents could hinder their presidential actions while in office.
The case is one of four criminal prosecutions faced by Trump as he remains the presumptive front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. A key issue is whether the trial can take place ahead of the election. Special counsel Jack Smith had urged the court to expedite the trial, which had been indefinitely delayed pending the resolution of the appeal. If Trump were to win the election, he could potentially dismiss the charges or pardon himself, raising questions about the timing of the trial.
The appeal stems from a four-count indictment in Washington, including charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan had previously rejected Trump’s plea to dismiss the indictment on presidential immunity and other constitutional grounds. As the appeals process plays out, the case remains on hold.
Trump’s legal team has cited a 1982 Supreme Court ruling endorsing presidential immunity from civil lawsuits within the “outer perimeter” of the president’s official responsibilities. However, they have acknowledged that a former president can be prosecuted for conduct unrelated to official acts. Meanwhile, Smith’s team argues that there is no broad immunity preventing former presidents from being prosecuted for criminal acts committed in office, emphasizing that an attempt to “use fraudulent means to thwart the transfer of power” should not be considered an official act.
As the legal battle unfolds, the implications for Trump’s candidacy and the precedent it may set for future presidents facing legal challenges remain uncertain. The case underscores the complexities of balancing presidential immunity with accountability for alleged criminal conduct.