Posts tagged with "U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan"

Federal appeals court swats down Trump’s immunity claims

February 7, 2024

Former President Donald Trump can’t lean on his expired credentials to avoid criminal charges for his attempt to stay in the White House after losing the 2020 election, a federal appellate court ruled on Tuesday—stripping him of any alleged presidential immunity, reports The Daily Beast.

“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump,” the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled, noting that “any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as president no longer protects him against this prosecution.”

The historic decision puts Trump on a direct path to the Supreme Court, which is expected to ultimately decide whether Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith can put the former president on trial—and potentially ruin his 2024 campaign by branding him a convicted felon.

D.C. Circuit Judges J. Michelle Childs, Karen L. Henderson, and Florence Y. Pan wrote the decision after hearing arguments last month, including one Trump team theory that stunned them: The idea that presidents are afforded such unbelievable, sweeping power that they could get away with ordering a SEAL team to kill a political rival.

In their decision on Tuesday, February 6, the appellate judges went further than simply knocking down Trump’s bid to claim this near-limitless immunity. They also established a clear and direct relationship between Trump and the insurrection.

“The rally headlined by President Trump resulted in a march of thousands to the Capitol and the violent breach of the Capitol Building,” they wrote, noting that “Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results were unsuccessful.”

The 2024 Trump campaign immediately vowed to appeal the decision, reiterating his legal team’s argument that exposing Trump to criminal charges will clear the way for future prosecutions.

“If immunity is not granted to a president, every 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 properly function! Deranged Jack Smith’s prosecution of President Trump for his Presidential, official acts is unconstitutional under the doctrine of Presidential Immunity and the Separation of Powers,” campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in his statement.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan previously rejected Trump’s immunity claims—sparking the current appeal. The appellate panel affirmed Judge Chutkan’s December 1 ruling that “former presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability.”

However, Trump can still claim some sort of victory in that this appeal has already slowed down the case. Chutkan had initially set the trial to start March 4, the day before the important “Super Tuesday” presidential primary elections in more than a dozen key states across the country. But the specious claims laid out by Trump’s legal team put the case on hold as it makes its way through the nation’s higher courts.

Days ago, Chutkan took steps that make clear she no longer thinks the trial will take place as soon as she’d hoped, scheduling other matters in March.

While the Supreme Court will ultimately decide the fate of the case, Tuesday’s ruling lays the groundwork for a decision that could leave Trump vulnerable to being the first ever former American president to end up in prison—and possibly bankrupt.

Trump is facing four criminal charges in the D.C. case for his involvement in a concerted effort to lie to the American public about the 2020 election results, a scheme that sought to interrupt the congressional certification of electoral ballots on January 6, 2021, in order to cement the victory of President Joe Biden. But he’s also facing multiple civil lawsuits for his role in leading and inspiring the attack on the Capitol by thousands of his MAGA supporters—one that cost the lives of five police officers who died after defending the seat of Congress from the raging mob.

The appellate judges reiterated the established legal precedent that an American president is “absolutely immune from civil liability for his official acts,” a notion that Trump’s legal team is trying to use as an impenetrable shield against the indictment and civil lawsuits. But, as the DOJ itself has noted in a legal memo last year, Trump’s decision to urge his followers to attack Congress fell far outside of the scope of his official duties.

In their December 6 decision, appellate judges noted that “both sitting and former presidents remain civilly liable for private conduct.” And they even tore away the shield Trump keeps trying to wield, writing that “the separation of powers doctrine may immunize lawful discretionary acts but does not bar the federal criminal prosecution of a former President for every official act.”

The appellate judges stressed that past presidents have tacitly acknowledged that they can be held accountable, evidenced by the fact that President Gerald Ford in 1974 saw it fit to pardon his predecessor, Richard Nixon—something that “both former presidents evidently believed was necessary to avoid Nixon’s post-resignation indictment.”

The landmark court decisions in Nixon’s Watergate scandal have played a pivotal role in Trump’s current legal woes—solidifying longtime comparisons between the 1970s political crook and the billionaire real estate tycoon whose entire presidency was mired in ethics scandals.

Research contact: @The_DailyBeast

Jack Smith asks Supreme Court to weigh Trump’s immunity argument

December 12, 2023

The Supreme Court said on Monday, December 11, that it would consider Special Counsel Jack Smith‘s request to rule quickly on whether presidential immunity protects former President Trump from prosecution in the federal 2020 election interference case, reports Axios.

It would be the first time that the high court would have weighed in on part of the legal proceedings involving the former president. Trump’s lawyers argue that he has presidential immunity from the charges.

“This case presents a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: whether a former President is absolutely immune from federal prosecution for crimes committed while in office,” Smith wrote in the Monday filing.

Smith added that it “is of imperative public importance” for the Court to rule on Trump’s claims of immunity “and that respondent’s trial proceed as promptly as possible, if his claim of immunity is rejected.”

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to expedite consideration of Smith’s request to consider whether Trump is immune, and gave Trump’s legal team until December 20 to file a response.

Trump’s legal team last week requested a stay on all court proceedings in the 2020 election case, which is currently scheduled to go to trial on March 4.

The former president’s request for a stay came after U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the case, rejected Trump’s arguments that he has immunity from the indictment.

A Trump spokesperson accused Smith in a statement of trying for “a Hail Mary by racing to the Supreme Court and attempting to bypass the appellate process.”

The spokesperson added, “As President Trump has said over and over again, this prosecution is completely politically motivated … President Trump will continue to fight for Justice and oppose these authoritarian tactics.”

Prosecutors in their filing cite the 1974 U.S. v. Nixon case, when the Supreme Court ruled that former President Richard Nixon was required to turn over tape recordings during the Watergate scandal, and that he was not protected by “executive privilege.”

The special counsel, in a rare move, is seeking to bypass the federal appeals court and urge the high court to rule quickly on Trump’s claims.

“Respondent’s appeal of the ruling rejecting his immunity and related claims, however, suspends the trial of the charges against him, scheduled to begin on March 4, 2024,” per the filing.

Research contact: @axios

Poll: Majority of Americans want Trump trial to be scheduled before 2024 election

August 30, 2023

An overwhelming majority of Americans—including, crucially, nearly two-thirds of Independents—want former President Donald Trump to stand trial in the Justice Department’s 2020 election case before the 2024 election, reports Vanity Fair.

A Politico Magazine/Ipsos poll surveyed 1,032 Democratic, Republican, and Independent adults between August 18 and August 21—a period slightly less than three weeks after Special Counsel Jack Smith indicted the former president in a criminal investigation into Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

The poll, released on Friday, August 25, was conducted just days after Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis indicted Trump and 18 others for their election meddling in Georgia.

The results show a marked uptick in seeing Trump stand trial before the 2024 election—demonstrating the severity and magnitude of the latest charges and complicating the former president’s insistent claims that criminal indictments only boost his political prospects. In June, a Politico/Ipsos poll asked a similar scheduling question after Trump’s classified documents indictment in Florida, and fewer than half of independents said they wanted to see a trial before the election.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan held a scheduling hearing on the federal case. Smith’s office requested a January 2, 2024 trial date, while Trump’s lawyers are asked that the trial the scheduled in 2026. Stating that she disagreed with both dates, Chutkan instead scheduled the trial to begin on March 4, 2024.

The poll also provides a window into how Trump’s response to his various indictments may—or may not—be landing with voters. Despite the former president’s cries of “corruption” in the cases against him, more poll respondents said they believed Trump had weaponized the legal system than President Biden.

More than half of respondents—including 56% of independents—said the Trump DOJ had improperly investigated political opponents. Asked about the behavior of various players in the criminal cases, respondents gave Trump the worst favorability rating of all: net negative by 31 points.

The DOJ and Smith came out with net favorable ratings, while Attorney General Merrick Garland notched an even split.

Additionally, the poll also shows a marked lack of public knowledge about the case, with between roughly one-quarter and one-third of the respondents reporting that they do not understand the charges very well. As the cases unfold and new information becomes public, Trump’s numbers might considerably worsen.

As for what voters would like the outcome of the cases to be, half of the poll’s respondents said they thought Trump should go to prison if convicted in the DOJ’s January 6 case. That number included 51% of Independents.

Research contact: @VanityFair

Judge Chutkan says Trump’s right to free speech in January 6 case is ‘not absolute’

August 14, 2023

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said on Friday August 11, that she plans to issue a protective order over the handling of evidence in the Trump 2020 election interference case—saying it’s needed to protect witnesses or other interference in the trial, reports CNN.

The former president has a right to free speech, but that right is “not absolute,” the judge said at a hearing on Monday, August 7.

“Mr. Trump, like every American, has a First Amendment right to free speech, but that right is not absolute. In a criminal case such as this one, the defendant’s free speech is subject to the rules,” Chutkan said.

“Without a protective order, a party could release information that could taint the jury pool, intimidate witnesses, or others involved in some aspect of the case, or otherwise interfere with the “process of justice,” she added.

This is the first hearing before Chutkan. According to CNN, she already has shown a habit of responding quickly and tersely on the docket to debates between the parties over scheduling. An Obama appointee and former public defender who has overseen several cases regarding the events of January 6, 2021, Chutkan has been outspoken about the harm the U.S. Capitol attack caused to American democracy.

How Chutkan handles the case is likely to serve as a contrast to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee in Florida who has been in less of a rush to move proceedings along in the classified documents case against the former president. She already has been heavily scrutinized for what critics say is a favorable treatment of the former president in a previous lawsuit Trump brought last year challenging aspects of the Justice Department’s investigation.

Trump pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election last week. The special counsel said on Thursday that he wants the trial to begin on January 2, 2024—a date that the former president’s team is expected to oppose.

Scope of protective order over evidence

In Friday’s hearing, lawyers are debating the scope of a protective order governing evidence that prosecutors say proves Trump conspired to overturn the election, interrupt Congress, and take away every American citizen’s right to have their vote counted.

Protective orders are a normal part of any criminal case and are typically approved without much drama. In this case, however, the special counsel’s office and Trump’s defense lawyers have battled in court filings over what Trump will be able to discuss publicly.

Among the restrictions the prosecutors are requesting in this case is a rule barring Trump’s lawyers from providing copies of “sensitive” evidence to the former president, including witness interviews and grand jury transcripts from the dozens of witnesses in Trump’s circle who have spoken to prosecutors.

To make their point, prosecutors pointed to Trump’s social media posts since he was indicted last week, including a vague and ominous Truth Social post reading “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” Trump also slammed Chutkan, writing in one all caps post, “There is no way I can get a fair trial with the judge ‘assigned’ to the ridiculous freedom of speech/fair elections case. Everybody knows this and so does she!”

The posts, prosecutors said, emphasized the need for a protective order that would limit whether Trump can discuss or share evidence on his social media accounts during the course of the legal case.

“If the defendant were to begin issuing public posts using details—or, for example, grand jury transcripts—obtained in discovery here, it could have a harmful chilling effect on witnesses or adversely affect the fair administration of justice in this case,” prosecutors wrote.

For their part, Trump’s legal team proposed less restrictive rules, alleging that prosecutors are on a politically motivated campaign to restrict his First Amendment rights. His defense lawyers pushed back on prosecutors’ definition of “sensitive” material that should be subject to additional rules, and asked to expand who can access certain evidentiary materials.

If Trump were to violate any eventual protective order Chutkan issues, he could be held in contempt.

Research contact: @CNN