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D.C. Circuit panel rules against Trump’s immunity claim

The decision can be further appealed up through the Supreme Court. At stake is whether and when the federal election interference trial goes forward.

By

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled against Donald Trump’s immunity claim in the federal election interference case, unanimously smacking down the former president's far-fetched legal arguments that would have let him escape prosecution in Washington.

“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution,” the D.C. Circuit panel?wrote?Tuesday?in a "per curiam" opinion, meaning one written on behalf of the panel, which consisted of judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents.

"We cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a President has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power — the recognition and implementation of election results," the panel added in the 57-page ruling. "Nor can we sanction his apparent contention that the Executive has carte blanche to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and to have their votes count.”

The case isn’t going back to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan just yet. Trump?can appeal the ruling to?the full D.C. Circuit and to the Supreme Court, which has discretion over whether to take the case.?The circuit court imposed a deadline of Feb. 12 for Trump to ask the Supreme Court to keep the case paused while he presses an appeal to the high court. Just appealing to the full D.C. Circuit won’t stop the case from going forward, the panel?said.?Trump has said that he does plan to appeal, so how long that will delay the case depends on what the Supreme Court does and how long its decision takes.

If the justices do take up the case, it would be shocking — even for this Supreme Court — were it to reverse the obvious and well-reasoned conclusion of the D.C. Circuit panel. Absent that unlikely outcome, the biggest question will be how much further delay Trump can gain by trying his luck with the justices.

The case?has been paused?at the trial court level, where Judge Chutkan on Friday officially vacated the previously set March 4 trial date. If Trump wins the presidential election in November — if he’s eligible, which is the subject of a?pending high court appeal that's set for argument Thursday?— he’s all but guaranteed to quash the prosecution, whether by virtue of gaining control over the government that charged him or even a self-pardon. He’s also charged federally in Florida and in state courts in New York and Georgia; he has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The absurdity of Trump’s immunity claim was well-known before the?Jan. 9 panel hearing?in Washington, but it was there that the former president’s lawyer effectively conceded that a win for his position would allow presidents to order the murder of their political opponents. The lawyer for special counsel Jack Smith argued that endorsing Trump’s immunity position would lead to a “frightening future.”

Subscribe to the?Deadline: Legal Newsletter?for weekly updates on the top legal stories, including news from the Supreme Court, the Donald Trump cases and more.

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