Appeals Court: Trump Not Immune, Federal Election Subversion Case Can Move Ahead
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A federal appeals panel ruled Tuesday that Donald Trump can face trial on charges that he plotted to overturn the results of the 2020 election, rejecting the former president’s claims that he is immune from prosecution.
The 57-page decision marks the second time in as many months that judges have rejected Trump's immunity arguments and held that he can be prosecuted for actions undertaken while in the White House and in the run-up to Jan. 6, 2021, when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
"At bottom, former President Trump's stance would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches. Presidential immunity against federal indictment would mean that, as to the President, the Congress could not legislate, the Executive could not prosecute and the Judiciary could not review. We cannot accept that the office of the Presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter," the judges wrote.
"Careful evaluation of these concerns leads us to conclude that there is no functional justification for immunizing former Presidents from federal prosecution in general or for immunizing former President Trump from the specific charges in the Indictment," the decision continued.
But it also sets the stage for additional appeals during the ongoing 2024 presidential election from the Republican ex-president that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a statement, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung responded to the D.C. Court of Appeals immunity ruling, writing: "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. Prosecuting a President for official acts violates the Constitution and threatens the bedrock of our Republic. President Trump respectfully disagrees with the DC Circuit's decision and will appeal it in order to safeguard the Presidency and the Constitution," the statement continued.
The legally untested question before the court was whether former presidents can be prosecuted after they leave office for actions taken in the White House related to their official duties.
The Supreme Court has held that presidents are immune from civil liability for official acts, and Trump's lawyers have argued that that protection should be extended to criminal prosecution as well.
They said the actions Trump was accused of in the confusing aftermath of the 2020 election, including badgering his vice president to refuse to certify the results of the election, all fell within the "outer perimeters" of a president's official acts.
Political theorist Dr. Paul Miller with Georgetown University said a willingness to hold former office-holders accountable is vital to sustaining democracy.
"As Christians, we understand that the human heart is sinful, that we are tempted, particularly when there's no one watching, or there's no one to hold us accountable. And if you have a leader, with the awesome powers of the presidency, and they are not accountable, to law, to the voter to anything, I can guarantee you that sooner or later somebody will abuse that power and use it in terrible ways," Dr. Miller told CBN News.
Still, legal experts admit the Constitution appears unclear on the topic.
"The Constitution doesn't really provide for immunity one way or the other. The Supreme Court has recognized in a case called Nixon v. Fitzgerald in 1982, that presidents can be immune from civil lawsuits, so long as their actions fit within the 'outer perimeter' of their official duties. And that has been largely assumed that it applies to criminal prosecution," explained John Malcolm, vice president for The Heritage Foundation's Institute for Constitutional Government.
The case in Washington is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces as he seeks to reclaim the White House this year.
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