Is Trump's immunity case DOA (and does that matter)?

Lawyers for the former president insist he's immune from criminal prosecution for anything he did in office — but winning the legal argument might not be the point

Donald Trump
Trump's lawyers may be hoping to "run out the clock" before election day
(Image credit: Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

More than a decade before he ran — and won — his first presidential election, then-property magnate and reality TV host Donald Trump infamously bragged to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush that he essentially had carte blanche for sexual assault because "when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything." The unguarded admission, caught on tape and released to the public just weeks ahead of the 2016 election, nearly derailed Trump's presidential aspirations and has gone on to become one of the most infamous moments in American political history. It is also, in retrospect, an instructive moment for understanding how Trump understands and wields power in general.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Trump argued to a three-person panel of appeals court judges that their client should be granted broad and near-absolute presidential immunity from federal criminal charges that he worked to subvert and overturn his 2020 electoral loss. Allowing for a narrow exception in a case where a president has been first impeached and convicted by Congress, Trump's legal argument for criminal immunity can reasonably be distilled down to "when you're a president, they let you do it."  Like Judge Tanya Chutkan, who initially rejected Trump's immunity argument, the appeals court on Tuesday seemed decidedly unimpressed, asking at one point whether it meant a president "could sell pardons, could sell military secrets, could tell SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival" and retain immunity? 

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Rafi Schwartz, The Week US

Rafi Schwartz has worked as a politics writer at The Week since 2022, where he covers elections, Congress and the White House. He was previously a contributing writer with Mic focusing largely on politics, a senior writer with Splinter News, a staff writer for Fusion's news lab, and the managing editor of Heeb Magazine, a Jewish life and culture publication. Rafi's work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GOOD and The Forward, among others.