Donald Trump is immune from prosecution in an election interference case in Washington, a federal judge ruled Friday, seeking to derail a lawsuit by Republicans accused of plotting to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The Republican Party’s attempt to do so was rejected.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s ruling comes ahead of a trial expected to center on Republicans’ multi-pronged effort to undo the election won by Democrat Joe Biden, as Trump’s lawyers filed a four-count indictment. This means that the appeal was strictly rejected.
This could set off a legal battle over the scope of presidential powers that could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the case, but is expected to appeal soon to fight what his lawyers consider unresolved legal issues.
Trump’s lawyer declined to comment Friday night.
In his ruling, Chutkan said the presidential office “does not give a lifetime ‘get out of jail free’ pass.”
“Former presidents do not enjoy special conditions with respect to federal criminal liability,” Chutkan wrote.
“Defendants may be subject to federal investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction, and punishment for criminal acts committed while in office.”
Chutkan also rejected Trump’s argument that the indictment violates the former president’s free speech rights.
Trump’s lawyers say he has a First Amendment right to challenge election results and allege fraud, and prosecutors criminalize political speech and advocacy. accused of trying.
But Chutkan said it is “well established that the First Amendment does not protect speech used as a means of committing a crime.”
“The defendants are not being charged merely with making false statements; rather, they are being charged with knowingly making false statements in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy and to interfere with the election process.” she wrote.
Her ruling came on the same day that a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that a lawsuit accusing President Trump of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021 riot can proceed.
The appeals court in that case rejected Trump’s sweeping argument that presidential immunity shields him from liability in lawsuits brought by Democratic lawmakers and police officers.
However, the three-judge panel ruled that the front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary was acting in his official capacity as president as the lawsuit progressed. He said he may continue to fight to prove a point.
Trump’s lawyers say the front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary is immune from prosecution for actions he committed while acting as president, and the case is scheduled to go to trial in March. He had argued that the criminal case should be dismissed.
They argue that the conduct detailed in the indictment, including pressuring state officials about election administration, goes to the heart of Trump’s responsibilities as commander in chief.
The Supreme Court has held that the president is immune from civil liability for acts related to his official duties, but the justices have never addressed the question of whether that immunity extends to criminal prosecution.
Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team said there is nothing in the Constitution or case law to support the idea that former presidents cannot be prosecuted for criminal acts committed while in the White House.
“The defendant is not above the law. He is subject to federal criminal law like more than 330 million other Americans, including members of Congress, federal judges, and ordinary citizens.” prosecutors said in court documents.
This is one of four criminal cases facing President Trump as he seeks to retake the White House in 2024.
Mr. Smith filed separate charges in Florida for illegally storing classified documents at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion after he left the White House.
Trump is also charged in Georgia with conspiracy to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden.
And he is facing charges in New York related to hush money payments made during the 2016 election campaign.