Trump warns of ‘bedlam’ in the US, appeals court sceptical of his immunity claim

Trump warns of ‘bedlam’ in the US, appeals court sceptical of his immunity claim
Trump warns of ‘bedlam’ in the US, appeals court sceptical of his immunity claim

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Former US president Donald Trump departs after a brief press conference at a hotel, following his hearing at District Court on Trump's claim of immunity in the federal case accusing him of illegally attempting to overturn his 2020 election defeat, in Washington January 9, 2024. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, Jan 10 — Donald Trump warned yesterday of “bedlam” in the United States if he is put on trial, following an appeals court hearing that appeared to lean towards rejecting his claim of presidential immunity.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, attended the high-stakes hearing held under tight security in a Washington courthouse just blocks from the US Capitol stormed by his supporters on January 6, 2021.

During the slightly more than one-hour session, a three-judge appeals court panel appeared deeply sceptical of arguments by Trump’s lawyer who said that as a former president he should be immune from prosecution on charges he conspired to overturn the 2020 election.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the 77-year-old Trump, who was not required to attend the hearing, accused Democrats and President Joe Biden, his likely opponent in the November election, of waging a “very unfair” politically motivated prosecution.

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“They feel this is the way they’re going to try and win,” he said. “And that’s not the way it goes. It will be bedlam in the country.”

Trump, who was impeached twice by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives while in office but acquitted both times thanks to Republicans in the Senate, is scheduled to go on trial on March 4 on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election won by Biden.

Trump’s attorney John Sauer told the judges that a president can only be prosecuted for actions taken while in the White House if first impeached and convicted by Congress.

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“To authorise the prosecution of a president for his official acts would open a Pandora’s Box from which this nation may never recover,” Sauer said.

“The notion that criminal immunity for a president doesn’t exist is a shocking holding,” he said. “It would authorise, for example, the indictment of President Biden in the Western District of Texas after he leaves office for mismanaging the border.”

District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is to preside over Trump’s trial, rejected his immunity claim last month and the judges who heard his appeal on Tuesday also appeared unconvinced.

“I think it’s paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty ‘to take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ allows him to violate criminal laws,” said Judge Karen Henderson, an appointee of former Republican president George H.W. Bush.

‘Not above the law’

Judge Florence Pan, a Biden appointee, asked Sauer whether a president could be criminally prosecuted for ordering the assassination of a political rival by Navy SEAL special forces.

Sauer insisted that even in this hypothetical case, a president could only be tried if first impeached and convicted by Congress.

James Pearce, a Justice Department attorney, called that an “extraordinarily frightening” prospect and said it would allow a president to resign before being impeached and escape punishment.

Pearce said Trump’s conduct was unprecedented.

“Never before has there been allegations that a sitting president has with private individuals and using the levers of power sought to fundamentally subvert the democratic republic and the electoral system,” Pearce said.

“The president has a unique constitutional role, but he is not above the law.”

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said the appeals court panel appeared likely to reject Trump’s immunity claim and could issue a ruling in a matter of days.

If denied, Trump could ask for a rehearing by the full complement of judges on the appeals court, Tobias said, adding that it would also likely be denied, setting the stage for Trump to appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Special Counsel Jack Smith, who brought the election conspiracy case against Trump, has been trying to keep the March start date for Trump’s criminal trial on track while lawyers for the former president have sought repeatedly to delay it until after the November presidential election.

Trump also faces election-related charges in Georgia and has been indicted in Florida on charges of illegally taking top secret documents with him on leaving the White House. — AFP

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