Trump does not have immunity from election conspiracy charges, appeals court rules

A federal appeals court has ruled that Donald Trump does not have “immunity” from prosecution for crimes committed while he was in office, landing another major blow to his efforts to evade criminal charges for his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

His attorneys are expected to swiftly appeal to the full bench of appeals court judges, or up to the US Supreme Court, teeing up another major constitutional test involving Mr Trump’s campaign at the nation’s highest court.

Last year’s federal grand jury indictment outlines a multi-state scheme from Mr Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election, culminating in his failure to stop a mob’s violent breach of the US Capitol on January 6. He faces four criminal charges, including conspiracy and obstruction.

In December, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan rejected his motion to dismiss the case on “immunity” grounds, writing in a 48-page ruling that his four-year term “did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens.”

The office of the presidency “does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass,” nor do former presidents enjoy any special consideration after leaving office, when they are “subject to federal investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction, and punishment for any criminal acts undertaken while in office,” according to Judge Chutkan.

On 2 February, with progress in the election conspiracy case effectively stalled for two montsh pending Mr Trump’s immunity appeals, the judge confirmed that a penciled-in 4 March trial date was no longer on the calendar.

Special counsel Jack Smith’s office previously warned judges and the Supreme Court that the former president’s delays could push a trial timeline further into the election year, opening the possibility of courts deciding whether to try Mr Trump as a president-elect or a sitting president.

“This case involves – for the first time in our nation’s history – criminal charges against a former president based on his actions while in office,” lawyers with Mr Smith’s office wrote last year.

“[Mr Trump] stands accused of serious crimes because the grand jury followed the facts and applied the law,” they added. “The government seeks this court’s resolution of the immunity claim so that those charges may be promptly resolved, whatever the result.”

Supreme Court justices are already scheduled to consider another major constitutional question of whether he can be disqualified from public office under the scope of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits anyone who has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding public office.

The court will hear oral arguments in that case on 8 February.

This is a developing story

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