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Appeals Court Strikes Down Trump’s Immunity Claim in 2020 Election Case

February 6, 2024








A federal appeals court in Washington has rejected former President Donald Trump’s bid for broad immunity from federal prosecution, potentially allowing the criminal case involving the 2020 presidential election to advance. The decision, delivered by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, affirmed a lower court’s denial of absolute immunity for Trump.

The panel, consisting of Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, Michelle Childs, and Florence Pan, emphasized that Trump, now considered citizen Trump in this criminal case, is not shielded by executive immunity that may have protected him while in office. Trump’s campaign spokesperson, Steven Cheung, announced plans to appeal the decision, expressing concerns over the constitutionality of the prosecution led by special counsel Jack Smith.

The court’s 57-page opinion established its jurisdiction to consider Trump’s appeal and dismantled all three grounds presented by Trump for establishing sweeping protection for former presidents. Rejecting the notion of “categorical immunity” from federal prosecution, the panel underscored the importance of holding former presidents accountable for alleged criminal acts, highlighting the need to prevent presidential abuse of power.

The judges warned against immunizing Trump or any president from legal action, emphasizing the threat such immunity would pose to the fundamental principles of democracy. They rejected Trump’s claim of unbounded authority and stressed the public’s interest in criminal accountability, stating that presidential immunity would undermine the checks and balances essential to the functioning of government.







The D.C. Circuit’s hearing

The former president asked the D.C. Circuit to review Chutkan’s ruling, and the three-judge panel expressed skepticism toward his claim of broad immunity.

During oral arguments Jan. 9, which Trump attended, Pan, appointed by Mr. Biden, proposed a series of extreme hypothetical scenarios involving a president’s conduct to test the limits of Trump’s immunity argument.

“You’re saying a president could sell pardons, could sell military secrets, could order SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival,” she told D. John Sauer, Trump’s lawyer, during one exchange, referring to the elite Navy unit.

During the recent legal proceedings, D. John Sauer, representing former President Donald Trump, asserted that impeachment and subsequent conviction are prerequisites for initiating criminal prosecution against a sitting president. Meanwhile, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, expressed skepticism over the notion that Trump’s duty to uphold the law could justify his alleged transgressions. Describing the argument as paradoxical.

The ruling comes amid Trump’s ongoing legal battle, with the former president facing four counts related to his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Despite Trump’s plea of not guilty and accusations of political motives behind the prosecution, the court affirmed that Trump’s actions fell outside the scope of his official duties and thus could be subject to criminal prosecution.

The decision marks a crucial development in the debate over presidential immunity and sets the stage for further legal proceedings in this high-profile case.




Credit: CBS News

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