WASHINGTON — Federal appeals court judges on Tuesday questioned former President Donald Trump’s broad claim of immunity from prosecution for his efforts to nullify 2020. election A series of events culminated in the attack on the Capitol on January 6.
A three-judge all-female panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said nothing to indicate they would accept Trump’s immunity argument, although they raised several options for how they might rule.
The court may issue a ruling that definitively resolves the immunity issue, allowing the trial to move forward quickly, or it may issue a narrower ruling that may leave some issues unresolved. They could also rule that Trump does not have the right to appeal at this stage of the trial.
At 9:30 a.m., Trump arrived at the federal courthouse in Washington and sat down at his lawyers’ table, minutes before oral arguments began. He was mostly silent during the speech of his lawyers, but when the prosecution lawyer spoke, he felt confused. He could be seen passing notes to his lawyers on a yellow bar board.
Special prosecutor Jack Smith also participated in the hearing, which lasted a little over an hour.
The case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump is facing as he battles multiple legal fronts while remaining the presumptive front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
With Trump running for president again, whether the Washington trial, originally scheduled for March, will take place before the election continues to hang in the balance. Smith asked the court to move quickly to keep the trial on schedule.
The appeals court is hearing the case on an accelerated schedule, so the ruling could come soon, possibly allowing Trump’s trial to begin as planned.
Judge Florence Pan immediately presented Trump’s attorney with hypothetical situations in which presidents could not be prosecuted under Trump’s theory.
He asked if the president could be prosecuted for selling a pardon or military secret, or for ordering the assassination of a political opponent.
“I understand your position that the president is immune from prosecution for any official act he does as president, even if that act is illegal or unconstitutional, is that correct?” Pan said.
Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer, responded that such an impeachment could only happen if the president were impeached and tried by the Senate.
Sauer added that the position taken by prosecutors “would, for example, allow President Biden to be charged in the Western District of Texas after he leaves office for border mismanagement.”
Justice Karen Henderson cited another part of the Constitution, a provision requiring the president to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed.
“I think it is paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty to see that the laws are faithfully enforced allows him to violate the criminal law,” he said.
Judge Michelle Childs noted that the fact that President Richard Nixon was pardoned after leaving office meant that no one thought that presidents were immune from prosecution after leaving office, whether or not they were convicted in impeachment proceedings.
Nixon resigned before being impeached.
His pardon indicates “the likelihood that you will be prosecuted,” Childs said.
Sauer made it clear that the president could be prosecuted purely for his personal conduct, but instead argued that he has immunity under the Constitution’s separation of powers principle because his actions to question the election results and urge Congress to block Biden’s victory constitute “official acts.” ” while serving as president.
Later in the argument, Henderson expressed concern that a ruling that said the president lacked immunity would lead to political persecution of future presidents.
“How can we write an opinion that will stop the floodgates? he said.
The Justice Department has previously acknowledged that “criminal accountability will inevitably be political.”
Attorney James Pierce, who argued on Smith’s behalf, said Trump’s investigation “does not reflect that we will see a sea change in the vindictive title for future prosecutions.”
“Never before have there been allegations that the president is contacting private individuals and using the levers of power to subvert the Democratic Republic and the electoral system,” he added.
On Monday, Trump suggested that if the court does not rule in his favor and he wins the presidential election, he would impeach President Joe Biden.
After the controversy, Trump told reporters that he “did nothing wrong” and warned that the accusation was “a threat to democracy.”
Trump has insisted that despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud in 2020, his actions are part of his presidential commitment to fight election fraud. Department of Justice.
“If it wasn’t for me, this would be the end of it. But sometimes they look at me differently than they look at other people, and that’s very bad for our country,” Trump said.
Whatever happens in the appeals court, the losing party will likely appeal immediately to the Supreme Court. After that, the justices will consider the case and make their decision.
Trump’s appeal stems from a four-count indictment in Washington, including charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct official proceedings. Trump pleaded not guilty.
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan in December rejected Trump’s attempt to dismiss the indictment on presidential immunity and other constitutional grounds. The case is suspended while the appeal process continues.
They cite, in part, a 1982 Supreme Court decision that upheld the president’s immunity from civil suits when it concerned actions within the “outer perimeter” of the president’s official duties. Trump’s team acknowledges that the former president could be prosecuted for actions unrelated to official activities.
Smith, who is prosecuting Trump, argues that there is no broad immunity that prevents former presidents from being prosecuted for crimes committed while in office.
In addition, Smith claims in court documents that Trump’s attempt to “obstruct the transfer of power and use fraudulent means to remain in office” should not be considered official action.
Trump also argues that any prosecution is barred because he was impeached and acquitted of the same underlying conduct.
Smith argued in his court papers that the Constitution clearly states that a successfully impeached president can face criminal prosecution. He added that there is nothing in the Constitution that says an unsuccessfully impeached president cannot be impeached.
The appeals court panel consists of one Republican appointee, Judge Karen Henderson, and two Democratic appointees, Pan and Judge Michelle Child.
The justices also addressed an argument in a court-friendly brief by the liberal group Control America, not Trump or Smith, that the appeals court did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal at this stage.
Pan asked Pearce why he did not argue that the appeals court could not hear the appeal at this stage of the case because Trump does not have the right to make a pre-trial request, known as an “interlocutory” appeal.
“Why don’t you take such a position that we reject this appeal because it is of an interim nature?” Doesn’t that advance your interests?” Pan said.
Pearce said that while it would benefit prosecutors in the short term, it would not be the “correct analysis.”
The court’s approach was unclear, according to questions asked by the judges, which would lead to the case being sent back to Chutkan for further trial.