Trump, Smith face off in court on election case immunity claim

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Trump is back in DC court for the first time in months

Trump’s attendance at Tuesday’s oral arguments marks his first court appearance in Washington, D.C., since August, when he pleaded not guilty to the charges in Smith’s indictment.

A federal grand jury charged Trump with four criminal counts in the case: conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights.

After his arraignment, Trump immediately departed the city — but not before tearing into President Joe Biden and decrying the “filth and decay” of the nation’s capital.

Kevin Breuninger

Trump en route to D.C. courthouse

Trump has departed his golf club in Sterling, Virginia, and is en route to the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington, D.C.

The drive should take less than an hour. Sterling is near Dulles International Airport.

Kevin Breuninger

Former Scalia clerk will argue case for Trump

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Getty Images

A former law clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will argue on behalf of Trump before the appeals court judges.

The lawyer, Dean John Sauer, also served as Missouri’s solicitor general. In that job, he represented the state government in cases that rose to the level of top supreme courts or appeals courts.

Department of Justice lawyer James Pearce will argue for special counsel Smith.

– Dan Mangan

Trump’s choice to attend court draws attention away from GOP rivals in Iowa

Trump is not required to attend Tuesday’s oral arguments, but he is choosing to do so less than one week before the first-in-the-nation Iowa Republican caucuses.

Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigns in Newton, Iowa, U.S., January 6, 2024. 

Sergio Flores | Reuters

He is also expected to be in court in Manhattan later this week for closing arguments in a civil fraud trial against him, his business and his family members.

Trump’s court appearances traditionally draw massive news media and public attention to him and his legal battles. This week, they have the added benefit for Trump of drawing attention away from his rivals for the Republican nomination.

“Every time they file an indictment, we go way up in the polls. We need one more indictment to close out this election,” Trump told supporters at a party event in Alabama, NBC News reported.

Kevin Breuninger

Biden appointed two of three appeals court judges hearing Trump’s case

Combination showing Justice J. Michele Childs (L), and Justice Florecne Pan (R).

Getty Images

President Joe Biden appointed two of the appeals court judges who will decide if Trump has immunity from prosecution for his efforts to reverse his 2020 loss to Biden in the presidential election.

Judges Florence Pan and J. Michelle Childs were both nominated to the court by the current president, a Democrat.

The third judge on the three-judge appeals panel was appointed by former President George H.W. Bush, who, like Trump, was a Republican.

– Dan Mangan

Trump asserts broad view of ‘absolute’ presidential immunity

Trump claims in a number of his active criminal and civil cases that he is absolutely immune from liability for his official acts as president.

In the D.C. election interference case, Trump’s attorneys argue that all of the allegations in Smith’s indictment were official acts performed in Trump’s capacity as president, so the case must be dismissed.

They also argue that Trump can be criminally charged only if he was convicted by the Senate an impeachment trial. Trump was impeached in the House for inciting the Capitol riot, but acquitted in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote is required to convict.

Kevin Breuninger

Trump expected to attend immunity hearing

Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends his trial in New York State Supreme Court on December 7, 2023 in New York City. 

David Dee Delgado | Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump is expected to listen in court as his legal team spars with federal prosecutors over whether the doctrine of presidential immunity shields him from criminal charges in the D.C. election case.

“Of course I was entitled, as President of the United States and Commander in Chief, to Immunity,” Trump said in a Truth Social post Monday confirming his travel plans.

Trump will be seated just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, which three years earlier was overrun by a violent mob of Trump’s supporters who temporarily halted the transfer of presidential power.

The Capitol riot plays a major role in Smith’s four-count indictment charging Trump with crimes including conspiring to defraud the U.S. and obstruct an official proceeding. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Kevin Breuninger

District court judge has rejected Trump’s immunity claims

Courtroom sketch depicting Judge Tanya Chutkan in an exchange with Donald Trump’s lawyers. 

The case is at the appeals court because federal court District Judge Tanya Chutkan denied Trump’s request to dismiss the criminal case on the purported grounds that he has immunity from prosecution.

When Trump appealed her decision, Chutkan paused proceedings in the case, which had been scheduled to begin trial in Washington, D.C., in March. The trial could be rescheduled if the Supreme Court takes an appeal from whoever loses at the circuit court of appeals level.

– Dan Mangan

Special counsel says Trump does not have total immunity

Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to members of the media at the US Department of Justice building in Washington, DC, on August 1, 2023.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

DOJ special counsel Smith says Trump does not have absolute immunity from prosecution in the case.

“Separation-of-powers principles, constitutional text, history, and precedent all make clear that a former President may be prosecuted for criminal acts he committed while in office,” Smith told the appeals court in a filing last week.

Smith added that that includes, “most critically here, illegal acts to remain in power despite losing an election.”

The special counsel is also prosecuting Trump in Florida federal court on charges related to retaining classified documents after leaving the White House and trying to hide them at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, where he lives for half the year.

– Dan Mangan


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