WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Friday said Donald Trump does not have immunity from criminal charges for actions he took as president, rejecting a Republican bid to dismiss the case. accusing him of conspiring to reverse his 2020 election loss.
US District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington found that there was no legal basis for concluding that US presidents cannot face criminal charges once they are out of office.
Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, can immediately appeal the decision, which could delay the trial while an appeals court and possibly the Supreme Court weigh in on the issue. The trial is currently scheduled to begin in March.
Chutkan’s decision brings Trump one step closer to facing a jury on charges that he plans to interfere with the vote count and block Congressional certification of his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump has pleaded not guilty and accused prosecutors of trying to damage his campaign. The case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces as he seeks to reclaim the White House.
Trump has other pending legal motions to dismiss the case based on claims that it violates his free speech rights and is legal malpractice.
Because Trump is the first current or former US president to face criminal charges, Chutkan’s decision is the first in a US court to confirm that presidents can be charged with crimes such as other citizens.
The US Justice Department has long had an internal policy not to indict a sitting president, but prosecutors say no such restrictions exist when a president leaves the White House.
Trump’s lawyers have made a sweeping claim that Trump is “absolutely immune” from charges stemming from official actions he took as president, arguing that political opponents can use the threat of criminal prosecution to interfere with the responsibilities of a president.
His defense team argued that the immunity enjoyed by US presidents from civil charges should be extended to criminal charges.
Prosecutors argued that Trump’s argument would essentially put the US president above the law, violating basic principles of the US Constitution.