January 10, 2024
On Tuesday, January 9, federal appeals court judges questioned former President Donald Trump’s broad claim of immunity from prosecution for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which resulted in a chain of events that culminated in the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, reports NBC News.
The all-woman three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said nothing to suggest they would embrace Trump’s immunity argument, although they raised several options on how they could rule.
The court could issue a ruling that decisively resolves the immunity question, allowing the trial to move quickly forward, or alight on a more narrow ruling that could leave some issues unresolved. They also could simply rule that Trump had no right to bring an appeal at this stage of the litigation.
Trump arrived at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., a few minutes before oral arguments began at 9:30 a.m. and sat at his lawyers’ table. He was mostly muted during his lawyers’ presentation, but grew flustered at points when the prosecution’s lawyer was speaking. He could be seen passing notes to his lawyers on a yellow legal pad.
Special Counsel Jack Smith also was present at the hearing, which lasted for a little over an hour.
The case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces as he fights on multiple legal fronts while remaining the presumptive front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
With Trump running for office again, whether the Washington trial originally scheduled for March can take place ahead of the election continues to hang in the balance. Smith has asked the court to move quickly—a bid to keep the trial on schedule.
The appeals court is hearing the case on an expedited schedule, so a ruling could come quickly, possibly in time to allow Trump’s trial to begin as scheduled.
“I understand your position to be that a president is immune from criminal prosecution for any official act that he takes as president even if that action is taken for an unlawful or unconstitutional purpose, is that correct?” Pan said.
Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer responded that such a prosecution can only take place if the president is impeached and convicted by the Senate first.
The position taken by prosecutors “would authorize for example, the indictment of President Biden in the Western District of Texas after he leaves office for mismanaging the border allegedly,” Sauer added.
Later in the argument, Henderson expressed concern that a ruling saying the president does not have immunity would lead to politically-driven prosecutions of future presidents.
“How do we write an opinion that would stop the flood gates?’ she said.
The Justice Department has previously acknowledged that “criminal liability would be unavoidably political,” she added.
The Trump investigation “doesn’t reflect that we are going to see a sea change of vindictive tit for tat prosecutions in the future,” said James Pearce, the lawyer arguing on behalf of Smith.
“Never before have there been allegations that a sitting president has with private individuals and using the levers of power sought to fundamentally subvert the Democratic Republic and the electoral system,” he added.
Whatever happens, the losing party is likely to immediately appeal to the Supreme Court. The justices would then face a decision on whether to take up the case and issue their own ruling, potentially also on a fast-tracked basis.
Trump’s appeal arises from the four-count indictment in Washington including charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Trump has pleaded not guilty.
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan in December denied Trump’s attempt to dismiss the indictment on presidential immunity and other constitutional grounds. The case is on hold while the appeals process plays out.
Research contact: @NBCNews