Special counsel Jack Smith asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to step in and quickly decide former President Donald Trump’s claim that he enjoys blanket immunity from criminal prosecution for actions taken while he was in the White House.
The aggressive prosecutor says the conservative-led top court should deliver a timely decision to avoid unnecessary delays in Trump’s explosive election interference trial that is now set for March 4.
“This case presents a fundamental question at the heart of our democracy: Whether a former president is absolutely immune from federal prosecution for crimes committed while in office or is constitutionally protected,” Smith’s prosecutors wrote.
The move amounts to calling the bluff of Trump’s defense, which hopes to use a potentially lengthy appeals process to delay the trial if possible until after the 2024 election, when he hopes to regain power.
Washington, D.C., Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan has ruled the case can proceed, saying Trump is not a “king” and cannot get a “lifetime ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’ “ for alleged crimes committed while in office.
But Trump last week appealed the case to a federal appeals court and argues the entire case must be frozen until a final ruling is reached, a process that could delay the trial for months even if the courts eventually give the green light.
Smith is attempting to bypass the deliberations of the Washington, D.C., Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, even though the panel has repeatedly ruled against Trump in similar cases.
The Supreme Court could consider Smith’s appeal as soon as Jan. 5, the date of the justices’ next scheduled private conference.
Prosecutors make no secret of their desire to obtain a decision on the immunity question as soon as possible.
“It is of imperative public importance that respondent’s claims of immunity be resolved by this court and that respondent’s trial proceed as promptly as possible if his claim of immunity is rejected,” the filing said.
Alternately, prosecutors asked the Supreme Court to instruct the appeals court to quickly act to resolve the key immunity issues so the trial can move ahead, or be scrapped.
Trump faces four federal charges related to his effort to overturn his loss to President Biden in the 2020 election, a push that culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, prosecutors charge. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Trump claims all the actions in question were carried out as part of his official duties and therefore aren’t subject to criminal prosecution.
Defense lawyers also claim that the only way a sitting president can be held accountable for supposed misdeeds is through the impeachment process. Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives but acquitted by the Senate when a majority of Republicans stood by him.
Trump’s team claims it amounts to improper double jeopardy for him to face federal criminal charges for some of the same conduct covered in the impeachment drama.
Many legal analysts scoff at that argument, noting that impeachment is not a criminal process and could not lead to imprisonment. It therefore does not preclude criminal prosecution, particularly after a yearslong investigation that unearthed voluminous evidence against him.
Trump, who faces 91 felony indictments in all, separately faces trial on Georgia state racketeering charges covering the same basic conduct in the Peach State and elsewhere.
Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani Willis has asked a judge to set an Aug. 5 trial date for Trump and more than a dozen cronies, including ex-chief of staff Mark Meadows and lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
It’s unclear whether or how a Supreme Court decision in Trump’s favor would affect the state charges.