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Explained | What the US Supreme Court’s immunity decision means for Trump

The decision means that a trial in the case will almost certainly be pushed back until after the November election— and, should Trump win, the Justice Department is almost certain to drop the case, according to people close to Trump.
Last Updated : 02 July 2024, 03:30 IST

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A legal system that has dealt Donald Trump painful blows over the past six months has just granted him one of the most significant pieces of good news he has received since his campaign began.

The US Supreme Court, whose conservative supermajority was cemented by Trump’s nominations, ruled Monday that the former president is partly shielded from prosecution as he tries to fend off an indictment from special counsel Jack Smith in connection with Trump’s efforts to thwart the transfer of power after the 2020 election.

The broad contours of the ruling— that presidents would be entitled to substantial protection for official acts— had been expected by political and court watchers for months. Nonetheless, Trump trumpeted it as a victory.

“Big win for our constitution and democracy. Proud to be an American!,” Trump wrote on Truth Social in all capital letters.

https://truthsocial.com/@realDonaldTrump/112712072913498924

The decision means that a trial in the case will almost certainly be pushed back until after the November election— and, should Trump win, the Justice Department is almost certain to drop the case, according to people close to Trump.

For President Joe Biden, who is seeking a second term, the ruling was not the outcome that would have been most beneficial in his efforts to describe Trump as dangerous; that would have been an affirmation of the indictment. Biden’s team immediately highlighted the ruling as evidence of the existential threat that the incumbent president has said his predecessor and possible successor poses to the country.

A statement attributed to a senior Biden campaign adviser said, “Today’s ruling doesn’t change the facts, so let’s be very clear about what happened on Jan. 6: Donald Trump snapped after he lost the 2020 election and encouraged a mob to overthrow the results of a free and fair election. Trump is already running for president as a convicted felon for the very same reason he sat idly by while the mob violently attacked the Capitol: He thinks he’s above the law and is willing to do anything to gain and hold on to power for himself.”

Republicans quickly pointed to the decision as another example of the type of luck— some self-made, such as with a Supreme Court he shaped— that Trump has frequently experienced as he stretches systems as far as they will go, and sometimes further than they’re intended to.

When Trump faced an impeachment trial for the events of January 6, 2021, one Republican after another explained not voting to convict him in the Senate by arguing that the criminal justice system was the more appropriate place to hold him accountable. Those same Republicans are now backing Trump for a second term, one in which the former president has promised a maximalist approach to executive power, and one that would come after the Supreme Court has offered a sweeping definition of official acts as immune from prosecution.

In an interview with Fox News’ website, Trump claimed to have been “harassed” by Democrats— including former President Barack Obama and Biden — “for years.”

“And now the courts have spoken,” Trump said, later adding, “Now I am free to campaign like anyone else. We are leading in every poll— by a lot— and we will make America great again.”

Trump has always campaigned however he wanted: a mix of golf outings during the day and a few rallies a month, mixed with a handful of court appearances that he chose to attend throughout 2023 and early 2024. Trump seemed to revel in those moments, and the media spectacle that ensued.

But in April, when what is now almost certain to be the only criminal trial he will face before Election Day began in Manhattan, the delight all but disappeared.

Trump was convicted in a six-week trial on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, which prosecutors said he made to conceal a hush-money payment to a porn actor during the 2016 campaign.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in that case July 11, and the Supreme Court ruling is unlikely to delay that.

Yet although some on Trump’s team have anxiety about the possibility, few observers believe that Justice Juan M. Merchan will force Trump to be either behind bars or under home confinement during the presidential race.

Trump has enjoyed nothing about being a felon. But politically, the conviction has reaped benefits for his candidacy in the short term. He has raised an astonishing amount of money, while a broad spectrum of Republicans suddenly called for Democrats to be prosecuted in retaliation.

Although the Supreme Court took an initial step outlining immunity, the timing of what comes next is unclear. The court has returned the matter to the trial judge, Tanya Chutkan, who now must decide whether to hold a miniature version of a trial to decide what allegations in the special counsel’s indictment constitute official acts, and would therefore be potentially immune from prosecution in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision Monday.

Such proceedings, depending on the scope of matters that Chutkan allows to be heard, could prove problematic in the details for Trump. The facts of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob— and Trump’s public lies about winning the 2020 election in the weeks after the election — are decidedly unhelpful to Trump with swing voters.

For that reason, Trump’s allies were relieved that the initial questions in the debate against Biden last week were not about the Capitol attack, which Trump continues to defend, but about the economy.

A minitrial could refocus attention on what happened that day in Washington. But Trump’s legal team has proved expert at kicking the can down the road, and it may not happen before the election. Even if it does, any actual trial related to Trump’s actions in an effort to remain in power are a long way off.

Still, the hope of that minitrial taking place may be the best option for Democrats seeking to keep Trump’s conduct undermining elections in the spotlight.

“When Trump tried to overturn the results of an election he lost in 2020, it was not the official act of a president,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a statement. “It was the act of a despotic narcissist attempting to overthrow our democracy to cling to power, and he needs to answer for his actions.”

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Published 02 July 2024, 03:30 IST

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