Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media at one of his properties, 40 Wall Street, following closing arguments at his civil fraud trial on January 11, 2024 in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump does not have presidential immunity from prosecution on criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, a federal appeals court unanimously ruled Tuesday.
“We have balanced former President Trump’s asserted interests in executive immunity against the vital public interests that favor allowing this prosecution to proceed,” the three-judge panel wrote in the 57-page opinion.
“We conclude that ‘[c]oncerns of public policy, especially as illuminated by our history and the structure of our government’ compel the rejection of his claim of immunity in this case,” the panel wrote as it upheld a trial judge’s ruling on the issue.
Trump is expected to quickly ask the Supreme Court to overturn the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In its ruling, the appeals panel rejected three separate immunity arguments Trump’s lawyers made “both as a categorical defense to federal criminal prosecutions of former Presidents and as applied to this case in particular.”
“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” the panel wrote.
“But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.”
The legal battle over Trump’s immunity claim stems from the criminal election interference case being prosecuted by special counsel Jack Smith in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Trump is charged in the case with four counts of crimes including conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. He has pleaded not guilty.
Defense lawyers, seeking to dismiss the case, had argued to Judge Tanya Chutkan that Trump has “absolute immunity” from prosecution because the charges relate to official acts performed while he was president.
After Chutkan declined to dismiss the charges, Trump’s attorneys brought the immunity argument to the appeals court. That move put the case on hold in Chutkan’s court.
Smith, seeking to avoid a drawn-out legal dispute that could delay Trump’s trial, beseeched the Supreme Court to quickly take up the dispute. The high court declined to do so, putting the matter back into the appeals court’s hands.
The immunity battle has already taken a toll on the timeline of the case: While waiting for the appeals court’s ruling, Chutkan vacated the trial date previously scheduled for March 4.
Smith alleges Trump, using false election fraud claims as a pretext, tried to reverse President Joe Biden’s victory through multiple criminal conspiracies. Those allegedly include organizing slates of illegitimate pro-Trump electors in states Biden won, trying to use the Justice Department to conduct “sham” election crime investigations, and challenging the count of legitimate electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump has called the case a “witch hunt” and claimed that it is intended to harm his 2024 presidential campaign.
This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.