Judge rejects Trump immunity claim in federal 2020 election case
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[December 02, 2023]
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Donald Trump does not have immunity
from criminal charges for actions he took as president, a U.S. judge
ruled on Friday, rejecting his bid to toss out the case brought by
Special Counsel Jack Smith accusing him of unlawfully trying to overturn
his 2020 election loss.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan found no legal basis for concluding
that presidents cannot face criminal charges once they are no longer in
office. Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to
challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 U.S. election,
served from 2017 to 2021.
"Whatever immunities a sitting president may enjoy, the United States
has only one chief executive at a time, and that position does not
confer a lifelong 'get-out-of-jail-free' pass," Chutkan wrote in her
Because Trump is the first current or former U.S. president to face
criminal charges, Chutkan's ruling is the first by a U.S. court
affirming that presidents can be charged with crimes like any other
The judge also rejected Trump's argument that the charges violate his
free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.
Trump's lawyers had argued that the case by Smith "attempts to
criminalize core political speech and political advocacy."
Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Trump, declined to comment on the ruling.
Chutkan's ruling brings Trump a step closer to facing a jury on charges
that he plotted to interfere in the counting of electoral votes and
obstruct congressional certification of Biden's victory. Trump has
pleaded not guilty and accused prosecutors of attempting to damage his
The trial is scheduled to begin in March. Trump can immediately appeal
the ruling, which potentially could delay the trial while an appeals
court and potentially the Supreme Court weigh the issue.
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Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the Trump Organization
civil fraud trial, in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan
borough of New York City, U.S., October 25, 2023. Dave Sanders/Pool
via REUTERS/File Photo
Trump has additional pending legal motions to dismiss the case based
on other claims including that his conduct as alleged by prosecutors
does not fit the charges they brought. In addition to the case being
pursued by Smith, Trump also faces state criminal charges in Georgia
related to his actions seeking to undo his 2020 defeat and two other
indictments. He has pleaded not guilty in those cases as well.
The U.S. Justice Department long has had an internal policy not to
indict a sitting president, but prosecutors said no such
restrictions exist once a president leaves the White House.
Trump's lawyers had made a sweeping claim that he is "absolutely
immune" from charges arising from official actions he took as
president, arguing that political opponents could use the threat of
criminal prosecution to interfere with a president's
His defense team argued that the immunity U.S. presidents have from
civil lawsuits should extend to criminal charges.
Prosecutors contended that Trump's argument would essentially put
the U.S. president above the law, violating foundational principles
of the Constitution.
(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone
and Daniel Wallis)
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