Court

Federal appeals court rules Trump doesn’t have broad immunity from prosecution

Tuesday’s decision comes at a crucial time for both Trump and the federal case against him. He almost certainly will appeal the ruling either to the full D.C. Circuit or to the Supreme Court.

The ruling by the federal appeals court is a major setback for former President Trump.
The ruling by the federal appeals court is a major setback for former President Trump.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ruled that Donald Trump does not enjoy broad immunity from federal prosecution, a major legal setback for the former president who almost certainly will appeal.

The ruling comes a month after lawyers for Trump argued made sweeping claims that he enjoyed immunity from federal prosecution, claims that lawyers for the special counsel said would “undermine democracy” and give presidents license to commit crimes while in the White House, such as accepting bribes for directing government contracts or selling nuclear secrets to a foreign adversary.

One of the D.C. Circuit judges, Florence Pan, pressed Trump attorney D. John Sauer at the oral argument about whether a president might sell pardons or nuclear secrets, or even order a Navy SEAL team to kill a political opponent, and still evade criminal prosecution under his theory of the case.

Another, Judge Karen L. Henderson, noted that it seemed “paradoxical” that presidents would pledge to faithfully execute the laws, only to violate those same laws and receive legal protection.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to four felony counts that accuse him of leading a conspiracy to cling to power and disenfranchise millions of voters in 2020. Prosecutors say that this culminated in violence at the U.S. Capitol three years ago that injured 140 law enforcement officers and shook the foundations of American democracy.

Tuesday’s decision comes at a crucial time for both Trump and the federal case against him. Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination and continues to insist — without basis in fact — that he won the 2020 presidential election. He almost certainly will appeal the ruling either to the full D.C. Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Already Trump’s serious legal troubles — he is fighting 91 criminal charges in four separate U.S. jurisdictions — are clashing with the political calendar.

The former president has signaled that he could seek to dismiss the federal cases against him in the District of Columbia and Florida if he regains the White House. His lawyer in Georgia recently suggested Trump may try to delay the election interference case against him in Fulton County, Ga., until 2029.