Prosecuting Trump would ‘open Pandora’s box’ – lawyer
Former US President Donald Trump’s attorney has argued that the country “may never recover” if a Washington DC appeals court allows a case against the ex-president to go ahead. The government contends that Trump can be criminally charged over a speech he gave while in office.
Trump arrived at the federal court on Tuesday, where a panel of three judges heard arguments as to whether a former president can be held criminally liable for actions taken while in office. Their eventual decision will determine whether Trump can be tried on three counts of conspiracy for a speech he gave before his supporters rioted at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Government prosecutor Jack Smith charged Trump in August, claiming that the speech – in which he urged his supporters to “fight like hell” against President Joe Biden’s electoral victory – provoked the riot.
“To authorize the prosecution of a president for his official acts would open a Pandora's box from which this nation may never recover,” Trump’s attorney, John Sauer, said at the start of the hearing.
Trump’s legal team have already argued that speeches were part of “his official responsibilities as president,” and that he is therefore immune from legal consequences.
Smith disagrees, and attempted to bring the case before the Supreme Court in December so that Trump’s criminal trial could begin as planned this March. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, kicking it back to the appeals court. Whatever the outcome, the losing party will likely bring it back before the Supreme Court.
“Could George W. Bush be prosecuted for obstruction of an official proceeding for allegedly giving false information to Congress to induce the nation to go to war in Iraq under false pretenses?” Sauer asked the court. “Can President Obama be potentially charged with murder for allegedly authorizing drone strikes targeting US citizens located abroad?”
“You can’t have a president without immunity,” Trump told reporters after the hour-long hearing concluded. “As president, you have to be able to do your job.”
“If I don’t get immunity, then Crooked Joe Biden doesn’t get immunity,” Trump wrote in a post to his Truth Social platform on Monday. Trump, who is Biden’s presumptive rival in this year’s presidential election, then suggested that the current president would be “ripe for indictment” over his handling of border security, his “surrender” of Afghanistan to the Taliban, and his alleged foreign influence-peddling.
As well as leading the January 6 case, Smith is overseeing the prosecution of Trump over his alleged mishandling of classified documents, a case that will be heard in a district court in Florida. Trump also faces state-level charges in Georgia and New York, and a plethora of civil lawsuits. He has dismissed the four criminal indictments against him as part of a Democrat-led plot to prevent him defeating Biden in the election.