Federal Judges Don’t Buy Trump’s Immunity Argument

Despite former President Trump’s assertions that he maintains broad presidential immunity from prosecution on allegations relating to the 2020 presidential race, a three-judge panel in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals sounded unconvinced. The legal team representing Trump said that the only way for a former president to face charges is to be impeached and then found guilty by the Senate. They have formally requested that the court dismiss the matter. But the panel seemed ready to dismiss the Trump team’s claims, but that was not the case.  The panel pointed out that lawmakers may not impeach a president for wrongdoing and that prosecutors wouldn’t be able to go forward with charges if the Senate didn’t consider new evidence of wrongdoing.

Just one week before the Iowa caucuses, Trump hopped off the campaign path and went to the nation’s capital to attend the hearing in person before the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. His legal troubles have bolstered his popularity on the campaign trail, giving him a commanding lead over his Republican opponents in Iowa and nationwide. While his attorneys argued for almost an hour, Trump sat in the courtroom and mostly stared ahead, offering only short remarks. The justices grilled Trump’s lawyer, John Sauer, with hypothetical questions that tested a president’s immunity from prosecution. They asked if it was impeachable if the president directed SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political opponent.

This is the first of Trump’s four criminal charges, and his immunity defense threatens to postpone the trial. To expedite the process, the Supreme Court turned down Smith’s request to bypass the appeals court and assess Trump’s immunity grounds straightaway. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has halted proceedings while Trump appeals her order denying the immunity claim; both the prosecution and Trump agree that he may appeal the matter before trial. But the justices on the appeals panel, and Childs in particular, raised serious doubts about the court’s authority to proceed.

Trump provided notes to his lawyers and whispered to them as they argued.

Although presidents have some protection while in office, Chutkan was suspicious of Trump’s immunity claims when her team presented them late last year. She determined this immunity does not extend to the president’s life after leaving office.