Judge hits pause on Trump federal election case over immunity appeal

The judge presiding over the federal election interference case against Donald Trump halted all proceedings in the criminal case on Wednesday pending the outcome of Trump’s appeal arguing he’s protected by presidential immunity.

All pending deadlines and court dates in the case will be put on pause but not vacated, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan added.

“If jurisdiction is returned to this court, it will — consistent with its duty to ensure both a speedy trial and fairness for all parties — consider at that time whether to retain or continue the dates of any still-future deadlines and proceedings, including the trial scheduled for March 4, 2024,” the judge wrote.

The ruling does not affect Trump’s conditions of release, the gag order or the protective order in the case, the judge said.

Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung called the ruling “a big win for President Trump and our rule of law, as it derails Deranged Jack Smith’s rush to judgement strategy of interfering in the 2024 Presidential Election in support of Joe Biden’s campaign.”

Peter Carr, a spokesperson for special counsel Jack Smith’s office, declined comment.

Former President Donald Trump arrives at the New York Young Republican Club Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on Dec. 9, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump arrives at the New York Young Republican Club Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on Dec. 9.Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

Chutkan ruled this month that presidential immunity did not shield Trump from charges that he illegally tried to subvert the 2020 presidential election results.

Trump had contended that the Constitution grants him “absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions performed within the ‘outer perimeter’ of his official responsibility” while serving as president as long as he was not both impeached and convicted for those actions.

Chutkan disagreed in her earlier ruling, saying the “Constitution’s text, structure, and history do not support that contention. No court—or any other branch of government—has ever accepted it. And this court will not so hold. 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.”

Trump also argued that denying his claim could have a “chilling effect” on future presidents’ decision making processes.

Chutkan suggested that could be a positive outcome.

“If the specter of subsequent prosecution encourages a sitting President to reconsider before deciding to act with criminal intent, that is a benefit, not a defect,” she wrote. “Every President will face difficult decisions; whether to intentionally commit a federal crime should not be one of them,” she added.

Trump quickly filed a notice of appeal of Chutkan’s ruling.

Smith then asked both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the Supreme Court to hear the appeal on an expedited basis.

The Court of Appeals agreed to the expedited hearing request late Wednesday, though no date has been set yet for oral arguments. The court did not explain its reasoning for granting the request.

Trump’s attorneys had urged them not to expedite the case in a court filing earlier in the day.

“Whether a President of the United States may be criminally prosecuted for his official acts as President goes to the core of our system of separated powers and will stand among the most consequential questions ever decided by this Court,” they wrote. “The manifest public interest lies in the Court’s careful and deliberate consideration of these momentous issues with the utmost care and diligence.”

Smith’s team countered that “Expediting the appeal in this case is necessary to vindicate the public’s interest in a timely trial.”