US District Judge Tanya Chutkan stated that the Constitution does not grant former Presidents absolute immunity for federal crimes committed while in office.
This decision is a significant development in Trump’s legal battles and raises questions about presidential protections. It is expected that this issue may need to be resolved by higher appeals courts before Trump’s criminal trial scheduled for March.
Judge Chutkan’s opinion comes after an appeals court ruled earlier on the same day that Trump could be sued in civil proceedings related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. The judge’s decision is a blow to Trump’s hopes of avoiding criminal cases and means that, unless an appeals court intervenes, there is no obstacle to his trial in the near future.
Chutkan emphasized that while sitting Presidents may have certain immunities, former Presidents are not exempt from federal criminal liability for acts committed while in office. She noted that Trump’s four years as Commander in Chief do not grant him a “get-out-of-jail-free” pass and that he is subject to federal investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction, and punishment for any criminal acts committed during his presidency.
Trump’s defense argued that he was acting to “ensure election integrity” within his official capacity as President and, therefore, should be protected by presidential immunity. However, Chutkan rejected this argument, emphasizing that the President’s motivations should not be decided by the prosecution or the court. She highlighted the different vision of a Chief Executive held by America’s founding generation, which envisioned a President distinct from unaccountable rulers in other nations, suggesting that presidential immunity does not cover Trump’s actions in this case.