Appeals Court Deals Major Blow to Trump, Rejecting Immunity Claim and Paving Way for Unprecedented Criminal Trial

Manoj Prasad

In a stunning rebuke to former President Donald Trump, a federal appeals court on Tuesday unanimously rejected his claim of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The ruling brings Trump a major step closer to being the first former president to face criminal trial.

The three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit forcefully dismissed Trump’s central argument that he is shielded from prosecution over anything he did in office.

“We cannot accept that the office of the Presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter,” the judges wrote.

While still holding office in January 2021, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for inciting the Capitol riot in a last-ditch bid to block certification of his defeat to Joe Biden. But he was acquitted by the Senate, as Republicans refused to hold him accountable.

Now, without the protection of impeachment shielding him, Trump faces prosecution by the Justice Department over the same issues. Special counsel Jack Smith has indicted Trump on charges that he conspired to defraud the United States and unlawfully interfere with the joint session of Congress on January 6 when the election results were to be formalized.

Prosecutors allege Trump used various means to pressure officials at all levels of government to overturn the election based on false voter fraud claims he knew to be untrue. The brazen plot involved pushing his own vice president, Mike Pence, to unilaterally throw out electoral college votes for Biden.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to four felony counts. But his lawyers claimed the prosecution itself was illegitimate, insisting a president essentially has total immunity for anything done in office unless first impeached and convicted by Congress.

The court forcefully rejected that radical notion, refusing to give presidents “unbounded authority” to break laws without consequence. It found no “functional justification” for immunizing even a president who ordered assassinations for political gain.

While disappointing his supporters, the ruling validated the Justice Department’s decision to charge Trump once he left office. Attorney General Merrick Garland has faced criticism from Democrats for not being aggressive enough against Trump.

The court made clear no president is “above the law” forever just because they held the office. Allowing total immunity from prosecution after leaving the White House could enable the “most fundamental check on executive power” to be “neutralized,” wrote the panel.

Trump immediately pledged to appeal the ruling, calling it a “threat” that would prevent presidents from properly functioning. But legal experts considered it well-reasoned and expect it will be upheld.

For now, the dismissal of Trump’s immunity claim paves the way for an unprecedented criminal trial of a former president over actions in office. If convicted, Trump could face years in prison and be legally barred from holding federal office again.

The ruling poses a major threat to Trump just as he consolidates support for another White House run. It promises to expose him to even greater legal scrutiny just as he steps up attacks on Biden and Democrats.

Some fear Trump could abuse his powers again or retaliate if he returns to the Oval Office. The court made clear he can be prosecuted like any other citizen for breaking laws, no matter his position.

While Trump has been beset by investigations on multiple fronts, the Justice Department’s pursuit represents by far the gravest danger to him. The week after the appeals court ruling, jury selection is slated to begin in another case brought by the Manhattan District Attorney over Trump’s business practices.

Trump could avoid trial if he wins the 2024 election and pardons himself or directs the Justice Department to end the prosecution. But the appeals court ruling ensures he will not escape accountability forever and face justice like any other American.

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