WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump election interference case in Washington will be suspended while the former president pursues his claims that he is immune from prosecution, a judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s ruling increases the likelihood that Trump’s trial on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election, currently scheduled for March 4, will be postponed as the appeal of a legally unverified argument proceeds through the courts.
Shortly after Chutkan’s ruling, the federal appeals court in Washington granted prosecutors’ request to expedite consideration of Trump’s appeal. The appeals court set the deadline for filing briefs between December 23 and January 2, but has not yet set a date for oral arguments.
The issue is of critical importance to both sides given that a court ruling in Trump’s favor would likely derail the case and because a protracted appeal could result in a significant delay in proceedings, including potentially after next year’s elections, which would benefit the ex-president. -president as he seeks to win back the White House.
Chutkan’s three-page order is the latest volley in a simmering dispute over the extent of presidential power that could potentially be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time in American history.
After Chutkan this month rejected Trump’s claims That he was immune from prosecution for actions he performed while serving as president, his lawyers asked a Washington-based appeals court to review the decision and urged the judge to freeze the case in the meantime.
But special counsel Jack Smith, a sign of both the seriousness of the problem and his determination to keep the case on schedule, sought to preempt the appeals court by asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to speed up obtaining an opinion on the question of immunity, which would allow the case to progress. The court said it would quickly decide whether to take up the case again, ordering Trump’s lawyers to respond by Dec. 20. But he did not say what he would ultimately do.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday added to the uncertainty over the timing and overall fate of the case, announcing that it would review a charge of obstruction of an official proceeding which was filed against more than 300 participants in the January 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol. The charge is one of four brought by Smith against Trump, so a ruling in favor of the accused rioters could not only upend those cases but also affect the prosecution of the former president.
The argument that Trump is immune from prosecution for actions taken in his role as president has been seen for months as perhaps the most important and legally consequential objection to the case made by Trump’s lawyers before the trial. No former president has ever been prosecuted before, due to a lack of historical precedent that Trump’s team seized upon in an attempt to have the indictment dropped.
But Chutkan, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, flatly rejected Trump’s arguments, writing in her order that the office of president “does not confer a lifetime pass out of prison.”
Chutkan’s order pauses any “any further proceedings that would advance this matter to trial or impose additional legal burdens on the defendant.” But she left open the possibility of maintaining the current trial date if the case returns to her court, saying that date and other deadlines were suspended rather than canceled. She also said her decision had no bearing on the enforcement of a hush order imposing restrictions on Trump’s speech outside of court or other orders governing the sharing of evidence.
Smith’s team had asked Chutkan not to put the case on hold, saying the judge could continue to resolve issues unrelated to the appeal while the immunity request was pending in the appeals courts. Prosecutors said they “will continue to meet all pretrial deadlines set by the court” so the case can quickly move to trial if higher courts reject Trump’s immunity argument.
While simultaneously asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, Smith’s team had also asked the Washington appeals court to expedite consideration of Trump’s appeal. But Trump’s lawyers accused prosecutors of trying to rush the case before next year’s presidential election, telling judges to take their time.
“The prosecution has only one goal in this case: to unlawfully attempt to try, convict, and sentence President Trump before an election in which he is likely to defeat President Biden,” the attorneys wrote. defense. “This represents a blatant attempt to interfere with the 2024 presidential election and disenfranchise the tens of millions of voters who support President Trump’s candidacy.”
A Supreme Court case typically lasts several months, from the time the justices agree to hear it until the final decision. Smith is asking the court to move with unusual, but not unprecedented, speed.
Nearly 50 years ago, judges acted within two months of forcing President Richard Nixon to turn over the Oval Office tapes to the Watergate scandal. The tapes were then used later in 1974 in corruption prosecutions of former Nixon aides.
It took only a few days for the high court to effectively decide the 2000 presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.
If the justices refuse to intervene at this point, Trump’s appeal will continue in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. Smith said even a quick appeals decision might not reach the Supreme Court in time for review and final say before the Court’s traditional summer recess.
Trump faces four criminal proceedings in four different cities. He is accused in Florida of illegally detain classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago property and faces lawsuits in Georgia that accuse him of attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election in this state and one New York affair who accuses him of falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment to a porn actress.