( Michigan Advance ) – WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump can be prosecuted for charges he schemed to overturn the 2020 election, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, rejecting Trump’s argument he was immune from criminal prosecution for any alleged conduct during his presidential term.
In a unanimous opinion, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel denied Trump’s request to throw out the federal charges accusing him of lying to and encouraging supporters who turned violent on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump and his attorneys argued the case should be dismissed because Trump was acting in his official capacity as president and that allowing a president to be sued would have disastrous consequences.
The court found those arguments were “unsupported by precedent, history or the text and structure of the Constitution.”
“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” Tuesday’s unsigned opinion said. “But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.”
Trump is expected to appeal the ruling, either to the full D.C. Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, in a process that could take months while he continues his campaign as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Neither court is required to take the case, but exercising his appellate options will help Trump extend the case, potentially beyond Election Day, although Trump and his legal team have not explicitly said it is part of their strategy to delay the case as long as possible.
The full D.C. Circuit is “highly unlikely” to hear a further appeal of the presidential immunity ruling, according to legal experts Norman L. Eisen, Matthew A. Seligman and Joshua Kolb, who wrote an outline of potential timelines in the case for Just Security, a site devoted to foreign policy, democracy and security analysis, that published Jan. 9.
The Supreme Court is also “unlikely” to hear an appeal, they wrote.
Trump brought the appeal from a trial court in D.C., where he faces federal charges related to the 2021 attack on the Capitol. An investigation by special counsel Jack Smith resulted in a four-count indictment last year accusing Trump of conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The indictment accuses Trump of working with a group of co-conspirators to recruit false slates of electors, lying to the public about non-existent determinative election fraud and encouraging supporters to obstruct the election certification in a violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump raised a so-called presidential immunity defense in the trial court, saying he could not be prosecuted for the actions alleged in the indictment because he was acting in his official capacity as president to counteract election fraud.
Hours before the three-judge panel issued its ruling, Trump posted in all capital letters on his online platform, Truth Social, that “IF IMMUNITY IS NOT GRANTED TO A PRESIDENT, EVERY PRESIDENT THAT LEAVES OFFICE WILL BE IMMEDIATELY INDICTED BY THE OPPOSING PARTY.”
“WITHOUT COMPLETE IMMUNITY, A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO PROPERLY FUNCTION!” he wrote.