Appeals court rules Donald Trump does not have immunity

Appeals court rules Donald Trump does not have immunity

Former President Donald Trump's federal election interference lawsuit was denied presidential immunity by a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

"For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant," the judges wrote in their 57-page ruling. "Former President Trump lacked any lawful discretionary authority to defy federal criminal law and he is answerable in court for his conduct."

"We reject all three potential bases for immunity both as a categorical defense to federal criminal prosecutions of former Presidents and as applied to this case in particular," the ruling concluded.

"We cannot accept former President Trump's claim that a President has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power -- the recognition and implementation of election results," justices stated. "Nor can we sanction his apparent contention that the Executive has carte blanche to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and to have their votes count."

"At bottom, former President Trump's stance would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches," said.

Trump, in a reply on Twitter, wrote, "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. ... If not overturned, as it should be, this decision would terribly injure not only the Presidency, but the Life, Breath, and Success of our Country."

According to Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung, "President Trump respectfully disagrees with the DC Circuit's decision and will appeal it in order to safeguard the Presidency and the Constitution."

"If immunity is not granted to a President, every future President who leaves office will be immediately indicted by the opposing party," read the release. "Without complete immunity, a President of the United States would not be able to properly function!"

A special counsel Jack Smith spokeswoman declined to comment on the judgment.

Early January saw appellate judges debate Trump's immunity defense.

After waiting almost a month for the appeal court's judgment, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan postponed Trump's trial until March 4 last week.

In August, Trump pleaded not guilty to allegations of a "criminal scheme" to overthrow the 2020 election. He sought dismissal on the grounds that he had "absolute immunity" from prosecution for his conduct as president.

The former president, who attended the Jan. 9 hearing, denied wrongdoing and called the election tampering claims "a persecution of a political opponent."

In December, the Supreme Court denied the special counsel's request to immediately take up Trump's immunity claims, denying a writ of certiorari before judgment, which would have allowed a federal appeals court to hear the case first.

Smith requested the Supreme Court to immediately decide on the matter, which may establish for the first time in American history whether a former president can be punished for office conduct.

The appellate judges gave Trump until Feb. 12 to petition the Supreme Court to postpone their ruling and hear the case urgently. This request's Supreme Court response time is unknown.

Trump may also petition the whole D.C. Circuit Court to rehear the case, but that would not prevent the case from being sent back to Judge Chutkan's trial court unless the complete court agreed.

Lalee Ibssa and Soo Rin Kim of ABC News contributed.

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