A federal judge on Friday rejected claims by former President Donald J. Trump that he enjoyed absolute immunity from criminal charges accusing him of seeking to reverse the 2020 election, slapping down his argument that the indictment should be tossed out because it was based on actions he took while he was in office.
The ruling by the judge, Tanya S. Chutkan, was her first denying one of Mr. Trump’s many motions to dismiss the election interference case, which is set to go trial in Federal District Court in Washington in about three months.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers had expected the immunity motion to fail. They have been planning for weeks to use the defeat to begin a Hail Mary strategy to put off the impending trial. They intend to appeal Judge Chutkan’s ruling all the way to the Supreme Court if they can, hoping that even if they eventually lose, their challenges will eat up time and keep the case from going in front of a jury until after the 2024 election.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers filed their immunity claims in October in a set of breathtaking court papers that maintained he could not be held accountable for any official actions he took as president, even after a grand jury had returned a four-count criminal indictment against him.
While the Justice Department has long maintained a policy that sitting presidents cannot be charged, the bid to claim complete immunity from prosecution was a remarkable attempt to extend the protections afforded to the presidency in his favor.
Just as brazen was the way in which the immunity motion sought to flip the script of the conspiracy case filed against Mr. Trump in August by the special counsel, Jack Smith. The former president’s lawyers essentially claimed that all the steps he took to subvert the election he lost to President Biden were not crimes, but rather examples of him performing his presidential duties to ensure the integrity of a race that he believed had been stolen from him.
Judge Chutkan had little patience for such arguments, saying that neither the Constitution nor American history supported the contention that a former president enjoyed total immunity from prosecution.
“Whatever immunities a sitting president may enjoy, the United States has only one chief executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass,” Judge Chutkan wrote. “Former presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability. “Defendant may be subject to federal investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction and punishment for any criminal acts undertaken while in office.”
Judge Chutkan’s decision came on the same day that a federal appeals court in Washington turned down Mr. Trump’s attempts to use a similar argument about presidential immunity to dismiss a group of civil lawsuits seeking to hold him accountable for the violence that erupted at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.