US appeals court denies immunity to Donald Trump in election interference case

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Donald Trump cannot use presidential immunity as a shield against criminal charges for alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election, a US federal appeals court has ruled.

In a unanimous decision issued Tuesday, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said he was not entitled to immunity because he was no longer president.

“For purposes of this criminal proceeding, former President Trump has become a Trump citizen, with all the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the judges wrote in their order. “But any executive immunity that might have protected him while he was president no longer protects him from this prosecution.”

The decision represents a major setback for the former president in the federal criminal case brought by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith, who accused Trump of trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election. It is one of four criminal cases that he’s facing as he mounts another campaign for the White House later this year. He is the favorite to win the Republican Party nomination.

The outcome will almost certainly be appealed. Smith and his team had previously petitioned the Supreme Court to bypass the intermediate appeals court and decide the issue of presidential immunity in the first instance, but it declined to do so. The federal election interference trial, originally scheduled to begin March 4, was put on hold by the lower court while Trump pursued his appeal.

The DoJ declined to comment. Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, said in a statement that “if immunity is not granted to a president, any future president who leaves office will be immediately indicted by the opposing party. Without complete immunity, a President of the United States would not be able to function properly!”

Trump will appeal the order, Cheung added.

Trump had argued that the conduct in question was related to his official duties at the White House and that, under the law, presidents were protected from criminal prosecution for such acts. Without near-total immunity, current and former presidents would be subject to a barrage of criminal cases, he argued, writing in a recent social media post that “even events that ‘cross the line’ must fall under blanket immunity , otherwise they will.” there will be years of trauma trying to distinguish right from wrong.”

But the DoJ argued that presidential immunity does not apply to Trump. An attorney for the department said during the appeals court hearing that presidents “are not above the law.”

The Washington appeals court agreed with the DoJ, writing: “We conclude that the interest in criminal accountability, supported by both the public and the executive branch, outweighs the potential risks of slowing presidential action and permitting vexatious litigation ”.

It added: “Rather than inhibiting the president’s legitimate discretion, the prospect of federal criminal liability could serve as a structural advantage to deter possible abuses of power and criminal behavior.”

The Supreme Court on Thursday will hear a separate case involving Trump that will weigh heavily on the presidential race: whether he should be barred from the Republican primary in Colorado. The state’s high court ruled in December that Trump was engaged in an insurrection and unfit to be president based on evidence linked to Jan. 6, 2021, when his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

The state of Maine also excluded Trump from the ballot for similar reasons, but the ruling was put on hold pending the outcome of Colorado’s case at the Supreme Court.

However, legal challenges against Trump do not appear to have dented his standing in opinion polls in recent months. He has pleaded not guilty in all cases, which he has described as politically motivated.

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