Trump’s lawyers tell Supreme Court to stay out of immunity dispute in 2020 election case for now

By | December 21, 2023

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for former president Donald Trump on Wednesday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to withdraw from a dispute over whether he can be prosecuted on charges he planned to overturn the 2020 election results.

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team last week urged the nation’s Supreme Court to consider and expeditiously consider Trump’s claims that as a former president he enjoys immunity from prosecution. The unusual request for an early ruling appeared intended to avoid delays that could delay the trial of the 2024 Republican presidential front-runner, currently set to begin on March 4, until after next year’s presidential election.

But Trump’s lawyers told the Supreme Court there was no reason for them to take up the case now, especially since a lower appeals court in Washington has already considered the same question and scheduled oral arguments for Jan. 9.

“Interest does not automatically imply speed. The opposite is usually true. “New, complex, sensitive and historic issues – such as the existence of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for official actions – require more careful deliberation, not less,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

With Trump facing four criminal cases and 91 felonies in his efforts to win back the White House, a key aspect of his defense strategy is to try to delay prosecutions, including until after the election, to avoid merging with would interfere with his candidacy. By urging the Supreme Court to delay hearing the immunity question, lawyers are trying to avoid a quick and definitive answer that could send the case to trial early next year.

“This call raises important, historical questions. An erroneous denial of a claim of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution undoubtedly justifies this Court’s review,” the attorneys wrote. But, they added, that does not mean the court “must hear the case before the lower courts have completed their review.”

They also said the special counsel’s push to quickly bring the case to trial gives the appearance of political motivation: “to ensure that President Trump — the leading Republican candidate for president and the biggest electoral threat to President Biden – will face a month-long criminal trial at the height of his presidential campaign.”

“Once the Special Counsel petition was filed, commentators from across the political spectrum noted that its clear motivation is to schedule the trial before the 2024 presidential election – a purely political motive,” they wrote.

A separate question for the court is Trump’s argument that he cannot be prosecuted in court for conduct for which he was already impeached by Congress – but subsequently acquitted. That argument has already been rejected by the US. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over the case.

The Supreme Court has indicated that it will decide quickly whether to hear the case, but has not yet said what it will ultimately do.

Chutkan suspended the case last week, while Trump continues his claim that he is exempt from prosecution. But she left open the option of keeping the current trial date if the case returns to her court, saying that date and other deadlines were suspended rather than canceled.

At issue is Trump’s claim that he is entitled to immunity for actions he has taken in the course of his official duties as president. The Supreme Court has ruled that presidents are immune from civil liability for actions related to their official duties. But courts have never before had to consider whether this immunity extends to criminal prosecution.

Chutkan ruled this month that former presidents “do not enjoy any special conditions regarding their federal criminal liability.”

Trump’s team then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but Special Counsel Smith took the unusual step of trying to bypass the appeals court — the usual next step in the trial — and ask the Supreme Court to deal with the case directly. Smith’s team has said there is nothing in the Constitution or court precedent that supports the idea that a former president cannot be prosecuted for criminal conduct committed in the White House.

“The United States recognizes that this is an extraordinary request. This is an extraordinary case,” prosecutors wrote in asking for Supreme Court intervention.

The Supreme Court is expected to soon be asked to rule on a new Trump case with major political implications. Trump’s lawyers have vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court a decision that barred him from voting in Colorado on Tuesday under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars anyone who has sworn an oath to support the Constitution and then has “revolted” against it, to hold office.

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Richer reported from Boston.

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