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Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Federal appeals court rules Trump is NOT above the law

Unanimously rejects Trump's claim of absolute immunity

JESSICA CORBETT for Common Dreams

A three-judge panel from the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday unanimously ruled against former U.S. President Donald Trump's claims of immunity in a criminal case stemming from his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss.

"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," states the 57-page opinion.

The panel included one judge appointed by former GOP President George H.W. Bush and two appointed by Democratic President Joe Biden, who is seeking reelection this year. 

Trump is the Republican front-runner despite four ongoing criminal cases and arguments he is constitutionally disqualified from holding office again after engaging in insurrection on January 6, 2021.

Welcoming the development, the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington declared: "Donald Trump is not above prosecution. The law and the Constitution apply to him just like they apply to every other American. This is a major victory for our democracy and the rule of law."

The ruling aligns with the panel's skepticism during arguments last month. When one judge had challenged the limits of immunity by asking Trump's attorney whether a president could "order SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival," the lawyer responded that "he would have to be and would speedily be impeached and convicted before the criminal prosecution."

The panel's decision comes after Judge Tayna Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia—who rejected Trump's immunity claim in December—last week postponed his election interference trial, which had been scheduled for March. Trump is expected to appeal Tuesday's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose right-wing supermajority includes three justices he appointed.

The mandate from the appellate court opinion denying Trump immunity "issues in six days on February 12," noted Los Angeles Times senior legal affairs columnist Harry Litman. "That's very quick and puts him in a box having to find a stay before then," from the full D.C. Circuit or the Supreme Court, or Chutkan can proceed with the trial.

The high court in December rejected a request from Special Counsel Jack Smith—who is overseeing Trump's two federal cases rather than the U.S. Justice Department because of the November election—that the justices skip over the appeals court to swiftly settle the immunity debate.