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Trump again argues presidents should have immunity from prosecution even if they commit crimes

Matt Rourke/AP

Former President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on January 17, 2024.



CNN
 — 

Former President Donald Trump on Thursday said presidents of the United States should have full immunity from prosecution even if they “cross the line” while in office, pushing his claims even further as he awaits a highly anticipated ruling from a federal appeals court in Washington regarding his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

“Even events that ‘cross the line’ must fall under total immunity,” Trump argued in an all-caps post on Truth Social.

“A president of the United States must have full immunity, without which it would be impossible for him/her to properly function,” Trump posted.

Trump has sought to use his status as a defendant in court to inspire his political supporters in the Republican primaries. The post also reiterates his belief that an absolute power of presidential authority could protect him — even though he is no longer president — a claim that has raised fears among his opponents and critics ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

A federal appeals panel last week expressed deep skepticism about the immunity claim made by Trump’s lawyers and questioned whether it would allow presidents to sell pardons or even assassinate political opponents.

Trump wants the DC US Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out special counsel Jack Smith’s election subversion criminal case against him. Smith has charged Trump with four counts related to his efforts to stay in power after losing the presidential election, and Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The special counsel’s team argued in the hearing last week that a president is not above the law and that it would be “awfully scary” if there were no criminal mechanism to stop future presidents from intentionally breaking the law, including by taking illegal steps to stay in power.

The appeals court is currently looking at this question of presidential immunity and the US Supreme Court could ultimately be asked to weigh in.

Trump on Thursday pushed for “full immunity,” but his lawyers in this case have been advocating for protections with some caveats. They have argued in court that the immunity from criminal prosecution around the presidency should cover actions that could be official duties of the office. Trump previously echoed that legal argument on Truth Social, saying that his public effort to question the 2020 election result was part of his job governing the country.

One of Trump’s attorneys also said last week to the federal court of appeals in Washington that a former president could be charged with a crime only if the Senate convicted the president following an impeachment in the House. At least one judge on the panel of three, which could rule at any time on the immunity question, harshly questioned that answer, and another judge clearly expressed doubt that constitutional protections could stretch broadly over nearly everything a president did.

Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives following the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot but the Senate ultimately acquitted him. At the time, several senators, including then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said the courts and justice system could still hold Trump accountable.

The immunity case is one of Trump’s only opportunities to derail his trial, which is set for early March. It poses a major question about constitutional separation of powers and is likely to shape the understanding of the presidency.

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