Judge rejects Trump’s immunity claim in 2020 election case

Judge Tanya Chutkan
Judge Tanya Chutkan (Image: United States Courts Service)

A federal judge has dismissed ex-President Donald Trump’s bid to throw out charges of election interference on the basis of “presidential immunity”.

Mr Trump’s lawyers had argued his attempts to reject the 2020 results fell within his duties as president.

But Judge Tanya Chutkan found no legal basis for concluding presidents cannot face criminal charges once they are no longer in office.

Mr Trump is accused of unlawfully trying to overturn his election defeat.

“Whatever immunities a sitting president may enjoy, the United States has only one chief executive at a time,” Judge Chutkan wrote late on Friday.

“That position does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass.”

She added that Mr Trump’s presidency “did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens”.

The ruling is the first by a US court confirming that presidents can be prosecuted like any other citizen. Mr Trump is the first current or former US president to face criminal charges.

After the ruling, a Trump campaign spokesperson told CBS, the BBC’s US partner, that “the corrupt leftists will fail and President Trump will keep fighting for America and Americans, including by challenging these wrongful decisions in higher courts”.

Mr Trump is facing four criminal counts – including conspiracy to defraud the US – related to his alleged efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.

He has pleaded not guilty. The Washington DC trial, brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, is scheduled to begin in March in the midst of his campaign for next year’s White House election.

It is not clear whether Mr Trump’s legal team will appeal against the latest ruling, one of several legal setbacks the former president has recently faced in the case.

Donald Trump speaking at South Texas International Airport
Donald Trump speaks to Texas state troopers and guardsmen at the South Texas International Airport, in Edinburg, Texas. He is currently the Republican frontrunner for the 2024 election (Image AP/Eric Gay)

 

is currently the Republican frontrunner for the 2024 election

Earlier this week, Judge Chutkan also blocked an attempt by Mr Trump to obtain records related to the congressional investigation into the US Capitol riot in 2021.

In an opinion, filed on 27 November, the Obama appointee referred to the effort as a “fishing expedition”.

Judge Chutkan had already issued a gag order and denied a request to remove language from the indictment which Mr Trump’s lawyers believe could prejudice a jury against him during the trial.

The federal case in Washington DC is one of several legal battles in which the former president is currently embroiled.

He is also facing criminal indictments relating to his handling of classified documents and allegedly false accounting involving hush money.

In his home state of New York, Mr Trump, his family and Trump Organization executives are facing a civil fraud trial.

The judge in the case has already ruled the Trump Organization committed fraud.

The trial will determine the penalties, with prosecutors seeking a $250m (£202m) fine and business restrictions on the Trump family and the Trump Organization.

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