U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan rejected Donald Trump's claim that he cannot be held criminally liable for actions he took while he was in office, denying a motion to dismiss his 2020 federal election interference case.
"Whatever immunities a sitting President may enjoy, the United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong 'get-out-of-jail-free' pass," Chutkan wrote in a blistering opinion on Friday night. "Former Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability."
Trump's lawyers made the audacious argument in a motion filed in October that he could not be prosecuted for actions he performed while in the White House, and that his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results were at "the heart of his official responsibilities as President," NBC News reported.
Chutkan dismissed that argument, writing, "Defendant’s four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens."
She also struck down another motion that argued the indictment violates the former president's free speech rights.
“It is well established that the First Amendment does not protect speech that is used as an instrument of a crime, and consequently the Indictment — which charges Defendant with, among other things, making statements in furtherance of a crime — does not violate Defendant’s First Amendment rights,” she wrote.
In response to Chutkan’s ruling, a Trump spokesperson told NBC News that “radical Democrats” and President Joe Biden were setting “dangerous precedents” because they want to “interfere in the 2024 Presidential Election.”
Chutkan's ruling came hours after a federal appeals court struck down a similar presidential immunity claim filed by Trump's lawyers in an effort to dismiss civil lawsuits seeking to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
The federal election interference case, which is currently slated to go to trial in March, is one of several criminal cases that the former president is facing; he has pleaded not guilty in all of them. His lawyers have filed several motions to dismiss the D.C. case, some of which are pending. His defense team is widely expected to appeal Chutkan's ruling, setting the stage for a drawn-out appeals process that appears intended to delay the trial beyond the 2024 election, The New York Times reports.