CNN legal analyst Elie Honig breaks down how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decision on Tuesday eviscerated former president Donald Trump’s arguments for presidential immunity.
The former president’s lawyers argued that Jan. 6 related charges brought by special counsel Jack Smith should be dismissed because Trump has absolute immunity and any action he took in trying to overturn the results of the election “constitute quintessential presidential acts” and “fell within his “official duties.”
Trump’s lawyers also argued that he cannot face prosecution because he wasn’t convicted by the Senate in his second impeachment trial in 2021.
In a unanimous decision Tuesday, the three-judge panel ruled that presidents do not have immunity from prosecution from criminal acts committed while in office because that “would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the president beyond the reach of all three branches.”
The ruling stunned Honig who, during an appearance on CNN News Central, called the decision “remarkably forceful,” noting that the ruling dismantles Trump’s three main arguments for immunity.
“The court takes down Donald Trump’s argument in three parts,” Honig said, according to a clip shared by Mediaite. “First of all, they say there is no absolute immunity for the president. It is not, and cannot be, that a president or former president can never be charged for anything he did from January 20th at noon when he took office, to four years later when he left office, that would leave us in a state of lawlessness. So they reject absolute immunity.”
“Number two, they reject Donald Trump’s argument that, well, even if there’s limited immunity, I was within the boundaries,” he continued. “They say, oh, no, you are not. Not only do they say you were outside the boundaries, they say essentially, they say in this ruling, what you did was criminal.”
“The third argument that they reject is Donald Trump’s sort of, let’s say, inventive argument that a former president or president can only be indicted once he’s been impeached by the House of Representatives and then convicted by the US Senate. Only then can he be criminally indicted,” Honig added. “That was a creative construction that doesn’t work for a lot of obvious reasons.”
At last month’s hearing before the three judge panel on the appeals court, Trump’s attorney John Sauer answered with a “qualified yes” when asked by Judge Florence Pan if a former president would not face prosecution even if he ordered SEAL Team Six to assassinate his political rival.
“The answer from Trump’s team was a very unconvincing only if he’s been impeached first,” Honig said Tueaday. “So this court has rejected that.”