Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled on Friday that Donald Trump does not have immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct he made as president, denying the Republican’s request to dismiss the lawsuit alleging him of plotting to reverse his 2020 election defeat.
Chutkan, a radical anti-Trump judge in Washington D.C., found no legal foundation for determining that former presidents of the United States cannot face criminal charges once they leave office.
Trump, the Republican presidential favorite in 2024, may immediately appeal the judgment, which could postpone the trial while an appeals court and, perhaps, the Supreme Court consider the matter. The study is presently set to start in March.
Chutkan’s decision moves Trump one step closer to face a jury on accusations that he tried to hinder Congress’ certification of his election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump has pleaded not guilty and accused prosecutors of seeking to harm his presidential campaign. The lawsuit is one of four criminal cases Trump faces as he bids to reclaim the presidency.
Trump has additional court petitions filed to dismiss the lawsuit, alleging that it violates his free speech rights and is legally unsound.
Because Trump is the first current or previous U.S. president to face criminal charges, Chutkan’s decision is the first by a U.S. court to confirm that presidents, like any other citizen, may be charged with crimes.
The United States Justice Department has long maintained an internal policy not to charge a serving president, but prosecutors acknowledged there are no such limits after a president leaves office.
This flies in the face of a legal precept known as “sovereign immunity,” which means that presidents cannot be held personally responsible for their official decisions.
Trump’s attorneys said that the president is “absolutely immune” from accusations stemming from official activities he conducted as president, noting that political opponents might use the threat of criminal prosecution to interfere with a president’s obligations.
It should be added that it could open up future Democratic presidents to a host of unintended consequences for their allegedly criminal behavior.
His defense team contended that the protection granted to US presidents in civil cases should be extended to criminal charges as well.
Prosecutors said that Trump’s claim would effectively elevate the president above the law, breaking fundamental foundations of the United States Constitution. This, however, is a bastardization of the Constitution, which provides for legal recourse against a president in the Congress through the process of an impeachment trial.
Donald Trump was exonerated in both impeachment trials that he faced as president.
As Julie Kelly noted in her report on X, Judge Chutkan denied the Trump legal team’s motion in “typical hyperbolic fashion” while arguing that Donald Trump is not a king.
New: To no one’s surprise, Judge Chutkan, in typical hyperbolic fashion, denied Trump’s motion to dismiss Jack Smith’s J6 indictment on constitutional and immunity grounds.
Her “king” reference is the same language she used in her 2021 order forcing Trump to turn over records to… pic.twitter.com/rRxaRNcotW
— Julie Kelly 🇺🇸 (@julie_kelly2) December 2, 2023
On Friday, Trump was hit with a double whammy: A judge ruled that the former president can also be held civilly liable for his actions as president.
A federal appeals court decided that President Trump has not demonstrated presidential immunity from civil litigation relating to his activities leading up to and on January 6, 2018.
The decision was primarily based on the judgment that President Trump’s re-election campaign was not an official presidential act and hence did not come under presidential protection.
“In arguing that he is entitled to official-act immunity in the cases before us, President Trump does not dispute that he engaged in his alleged actions up to and on January 6 in his capacity as a candidate. But he thinks that does not matter. Rather, in his view, a president’s speech on matters of public concern is invariably an official function, and he was engaged in that function when he spoke at the January 6 rally and in the leadup to that day. We cannot accept that rationale,” U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, an Obama appointee, wrote in the ruling.
“While presidents are often exercising official responsibilities when they speak on matters of public concern, that is not always the case. When a sitting president running for re-election speaks in a campaign ad or in accepting his political party’s nomination at the party convention, he typically speaks on matters of public concern. Yet he does so in an unofficial, private capacity as office-seeker, not an official capacity as office-holder. And actions taken in an unofficial capacity cannot qualify for official-act immunity,” the judge added.
Judge Gregory Katsas, a Trump appointee, concurred, while Judge Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee, concurred in part.
The panel ruled on President Trump’s appeal after U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, ruled in 2022 that President Trump was not shielded by presidential immunity for his Jan. 6 address.
“To deny a president immunity from civil damages is no small step,” Judge Mehta wrote at the time. “The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent, and the court believes that its decision is consistent with the purposes behind such immunity.”
Judge Srinivasan noted that the decision is not final.
There is a simple rejoinder to the accusation that Donald Trump sought to “overturn” the election by sending unarmed extremists into the Capitol to disrupt the Electoral College: It doesn’t make any sense. The rejection of slates of electors in the Congress was the only way for Donald Trump to actually retain power. Once the election was certified, Donald Trump gave a speech on Jan. 7 that he would step down on Jan. 20, which he did.
There is simply no case to be had. Except that is not going to stop political operators from prosecuting a case that the former president was somehow guilty of an “insurrection,” even though there is no reasonable explanation for how the president masterminded such a plot, any evidence tying him to the extremists who attacked the capitol, why the rioters are responsible for no deaths, and how they planned to hold onto power.
It is an absurd case that should be dismissed. But if judges no longer care about justice but about political power, these are the kinds of travesties of justice we can now expect.