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Trump will return to federal court as judges hear arguments on whether he’s immune from prosecution

A swift decision is crucial for special counsel Jack Smith and his team, who are eager to get the case—now paused pending the appeal—to trial before the November election.

Donald Trump Federal HearingWASHINGTON: Donald Trump is set to return for the first time in months to the federal courthouse in Washington as an appeals court hears arguments Tuesday on whether the former president is immune from prosecution on charges that he plotted to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The outcome of the arguments carries enormous ramifications both for the landmark criminal case against Trump and for the broader, and legally untested, question of whether an ex-president can be prosecuted for acts committed in the White House. It will also likely set the stage for further appeals before the US Supreme Court, which last month declined a request to weigh in but could still get involved later.

A swift decision is crucial for special counsel Jack Smith and his team, who are eager to get the case—now paused pending the appeal—to trial before the November election. But Trump’s lawyers, in addition to seeking to get the case dismissed, are hoping to benefit from a protracted appeals process that could delay the trial well past its scheduled March 4 start date, including until potentially after the election.

Underscoring the importance to both sides, Trump intends to attend Tuesday’s arguments even though the Iowa caucuses are just one week away and despite the fact that there’s no requirement that defendants appear in person for such proceedings.

It will be his first court appearance in Washington, one of four cities where he faces criminal prosecutions and potential trials, since his arraignment in August.

He’s already signalling that he could use the appearance to portray himself as the victim of a politicized justice system. Though there’s no evidence that President Joe Biden has had any influence on the case, Trump’s argument could resonate with Republican voters in Iowa as they prepare to launch the presidential nomination process.

“Of course, I was entitled, as President of the United States and Commander in Chief, to Immunity,” he wrote in a social media post, adding, “I was looking for voter fraud, and finding it, which is my obligation to do, and otherwise running our Country.”

Former presidents enjoy broad immunity from lawsuits for actions taken as part of their official White House duties. But because no former president before Trump has ever been indicted, courts have never before addressed whether that protection extends to criminal prosecution.

Trump’s lawyers insist that it does, arguing that courts have no authority to scrutinize a president’s official acts and decisions and that the prosecution of their client represents a dramatic departure from more than two centuries of American history that would open the door to future “politically motivated” cases. They filed a similar motion on Monday in another criminal case against Trump in Georgia.

Smith’s team has said presidents are not entitled to absolute immunity and that, in any event, the acts Trump is alleged in the indictment to have taken—including scheming to enlist fake electors in battleground states won by Biden and pressing his vice president, Mike Pence, to reject the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021—fall far outside a president’s official job duties.

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