Trump Claims Immunity Extends Even to Acts That ‘Cross the Line’


Former President Donald J. Trump said on Friday night that American presidents deserve complete immunity from prosecution even for acts that “cross the line,” contending for the second time this week that the holder of the nation’s highest office should effectively remain beyond the reach of criminal law.

Mr. Trump’s remarks on his social media platform, Truth Social, were the latest signal that he seems to view the presidency as an office unbounded by the normal checks of the criminal justice system. The statements were made as Mr. Trump was seeking to build on his dominant position in the race for the Republican nomination with a decisive win in the New Hampshire primary next week.

Mr. Trump’s statements appeared to go further than legal arguments that one of his lawyers made in his efforts to use sweeping claims of executive immunity to dismiss a federal indictment he is facing accusing him of plotting to illegally overturn the 2020 election.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Washington expressed deep skepticism about Mr. Trump’s immunity arguments, suggesting it was unlikely to rule in his favor on a central element of his defense in the case. The appeals court panel could make its ruling at any time.

Mr. Trump’s lawyer took the position during the appellate court hearing that presidents could be prosecuted for things they did in office, no matter how extreme, only if they were first convicted in an impeachment proceeding. Taken at face value, Mr. Trump’s statements this week, which made no reference to impeachment, suggested that he believes there are no circumstances that would allow presidents to be held accountable under criminal law.

In his post on Truth Social, Mr. Trump said that presidents “must have full immunity” to avoid indictments being filed against them by “the opposing party.” The protections of immunity, he added, should extend even to “events that ‘cross the line.’”

The assertion echoed similar remarks Mr. Trump made on Thursday in another social media post. In that post, he also asserted that a president’s immunity from prosecution should encompass even actions that “cross the line,” adding, “Sometimes you have to live with ‘great but slightly imperfect.’”

A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While Mr. Trump’s posts about immunity were made as the legal battle over the issue was being considered, they also appeared to be an indication that the former president was taking a position that he could not be subject to prosecution for anything he did in office should he be elected again in November.

Aides to Mr. Trump have said in the past that he needs to take a maximalist position on the issue of immunity because they believe the Biden administration — and prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, who is overseeing the election interference case for the Justice Department — have weaponized the criminal justice system against him.

Mr. Trump has also bitterly denounced the lengthy investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia as a “witch hunt” undertaken by “deep state” opponents. Under Justice Department policy, presidents cannot be prosecuted while in office, but that position does not prevent charging and trying a former president for actions taken while in the White House.

The stance Mr. Trump has taken on social media appears to be an even more extreme interpretation of presidential immunity than his lawyers took when they argued last week in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

During the arguments, one of the judges posed an extraordinary hypothetical situation to Mr. Trump’s appellate lawyer, D. John Sauer, asking if a president would be immune from prosecution even if he ordered Navy commandos to assassinate a political rival.

After some hemming and hawing, Mr. Sauer said such a president would surely be impeached and convicted. But he also insisted that courts would not have jurisdiction to oversee a murder trial unless that impeachment conviction happened first.

James I. Pearce, a lawyer representing Mr. Smith, expressed horror at Mr. Sauer’s argument. A version of immunity that encompassed presidents breaking the law in such a blatant and violent fashion was not just wrong, he said, but also a vision for “an extraordinarily frightening future.”



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