Major setback for Donald Trump as court rules he doesn’t have presidential immunity

Key Points
  • A Trump campaign spokesman said the ruling “threatens the bedrock of our republic”.
  • The ruling brings the former US president a step closer to an unprecedented criminal trial.
  • Trump criticised the ruling in a post on his Truth Social platform.
Donald Trump has no immunity from prosecution as a former president and can be tried on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, a federal appeals court said Wednesday in a landmark ruling.
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said Trump’s claim that he is immune from criminal liability for actions he took while in the White House is “unsupported by precedent, history or the text and structure of the Constitution.”
“Former President Trump’s stance would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches,” they said.

They added: “We cannot accept that the office of the Presidency places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter.”

The ruling is a major legal setback for Trump, 77, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, and a spokesman for the former president said he would appeal.
Trump, in a post on his Truth Social platform, slammed the ruling and said it means “a President will be afraid to act for fear of the opposite Party’s Vicious Retribution after leaving Office.”
“A President of the United States must have Full Immunity in order to properly function and do what has to be done for the good of our Country,” he said. “A Nation-destroying ruling like this cannot be allowed to stand.”
The appeals court put the immunity ruling on hold until Tuesday to give Trump the opportunity to appeal to the US Supreme Court, which can decide whether to take the case or allow the lower court’s ruling to stand.
Trump had been set to go on trial in Washington on 4 March on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden.

But District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over the case, was forced to postpone it pending a ruling on the immunity issue, which she had rejected in December.

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Trump has expressed his outrage over the US appeals court decision on Truth Social. Credit: Truth Social

The three appellate court judges who heard Trump’s appeal last month were also unconvinced by his arguments.

“For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant,” they said in their unanimous ruling.

“But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.”

Special Counsel Jack Smith, who brought the election conspiracy case against Trump, the first former president to face criminal indictment, had been trying to keep the March start date for the trial on track.

Lawyers for the former president have sought repeatedly to delay it until after the November presidential election, when Trump could potentially have all of the federal cases against him dropped if he wins the White House again.