Trump Fights 2020 Election Case With Presidential Immunity Claim

Donald Trump is arguing that he’s entitled to immunity against federal charges over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election because he was president at the time.

(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump is arguing that he’s entitled to immunity against federal charges over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election because he was president at the time.

The immunity claim filed by Trump’s defense team on Thursday marks his first substantive challenge to the indictment from Special Counsel John “Jack” Smith’s office. The former president’s lawyers see the immunity issue as one with potential to reach the US Supreme Court and have said they’d likely seek to pause the rest of the case until that’s resolved — reopening a fight he previously lost to delay a trial until after the 2024 election.  

Trump is set to face a jury on March 4 on allegations that he was at the heart of a conspiracy to obstruct the 2020 election. It is one of four criminal indictments against the former president as he runs for reelection. He’s on trial in New York in a state civil fraud case involving his business this week.

The criminal case in Washington focuses on Trump’s final months in office leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by thousands of his supporters as Congress met to certify President Joe Biden’s win. 

Read More: Trump Sees Immunity Fight as Path to Delay 2020 Criminal Trial

His attorneys have asked US District Judge Tanya Chutkan to toss out the indictment, arguing that prosecutors had charged Trump for advocating for “election integrity” and that his actions were “at the heart of his official responsibilities as President.”

If Chutkan rejects the immunity argument and says the case can go forward, a loss could still boost Trump’s overarching legal strategy by giving him grounds to immediately appeal and again try to move back the trial date. Rulings denying motions to dismiss an indictment normally wouldn’t be appealable until after a verdict, but legal experts have said that the immunity issue is likely an exception to that. 

Trump’s lawyers have said they intend to challenge the election obstruction case on multiple fronts and have a pending request for Chutkan to push back an Oct. 9 deadline to file those. Prosecutors oppose the schedule change, arguing it’s a backdoor attempt by the defense to upend the entire trial calendar. 

Trump has lost in court before claiming immunity against legal action over his postelection conduct, although those rulings were in the context of civil cases and not criminal charges. A federal appeals court in Washington heard arguments last December on the immunity issue in a trio of lawsuits filed by congressional Democrats and law enforcement officers seeking to hold Trump liable for the violence at the Capitol but has yet to rule.

The Supreme Court in the past has held that presidents are entitled to sweeping protection over actions they took within the “outer perimeter” of their official duties. The fights in the civil Jan. 6 cases have explored whether Trump’s actions, speech and online posts after the election fall under that umbrella. Lower court judges ruled Trump wasn’t covered by the legal shield because he was pursuing “electoral” and “political” goals.

Trump is the first former president to face a federal indictment, so the latest immunity fight again enters uncharted territory.

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