Washington, D.C. – Former President Donald Trump’s claim of presidential immunity was scrutinized in a consequential court hearing, where an appeals court judge questioned whether Trump could order the assassination of a political rival and still avoid prosecution. Alina Habba, one of Trump’s lawyers, defended her client by stating that he “didn’t kill anyone.” The three-judge panel grilled Trump’s lawyer, John Sauer, about the immunity issue, prompting speculation of an adverse ruling for Trump. Habba later called Trump’s case a “slam dunk” during an appearance on Fox News.
During the hearing, the judges, two appointed by President Biden and one appointed by former President George W. Bush, posed tough questions to Trump’s defense. The most significant query came from appeals court judge Florence Pan, who asked whether a president could be prosecuted for ordering SEAL team 6 to assassinate a political rival. Sauer responded with a “qualified yes,” stating that criminal prosecution would only be possible if the president were successfully impeached by the Senate.
Trump’s defense acknowledges a limit to presidential immunity, stating that it could proceed if a president had been impeached. However, this argument faces practical problems and has been met with ridicule from Trump’s rivals and even some of his allies. Despite the criticism, Habba reiterated that Trump didn’t cause an insurrection or kill anyone, emphasizing the potency of his immunity claim.
The hearing’s outcome holds significant implications for Trump’s scheduled trial on March 4 in Washington, D.C. if the panel rules against him, he could appeal the decision to the full D.C. Court of Appeals and potentially the Supreme Court. Trump warned of “bedlam” if his prosecution is allowed to proceed, lambasting the Biden administration and condemning its alleged threat to democracy.
Legal analysts are closely watching the case as it could set a precedent for whether a former president can be prosecuted for official acts. Critics argue that granting immunity to presidents for such acts would undermine accountability. Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers argue that prosecuting a former president for official acts would open a “Pandora’s box” from which the nation may never recover.
The hearing concluded with Special Counsel James Pearce opposing Trump’s claim of immunity, raising concerns about the dangerous consequences of allowing a president to order the assassination of a political rival. However, the final decision rests with the judges of the appeals court. Regardless of the outcome, the case is expected to continue to higher courts and could have significant implications for Trump’s future political endeavors.
In summary, the appeals court hearing on Trump’s claim of presidential immunity drew sharp questioning from judges and sparked a contentious debate over the limits of immunity for former presidents. With the outcome still uncertain, legal experts and political analysts await a final decision that could have far-reaching consequences for Trump and the future interpretation of presidential powers.