Trump Lawyer Claims Presidential Immunity Covers Having Rivals Assassinated

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Former President Donald Trump is in D.C. on Tuesday sitting in on an appeals court hearing regarding his claim of “absolute immunity” from criminal prosecution for acts he may or may not have committed as president. The arguments are already getting absurd.

Judge Florence Y. Pan, a member of the three-appellate judge panel that will rule on the question, asked Trump’s attorney, John Sauer, if — hypothetically — a president could order S.E.A.L. Team Six to assassinate their political rival and be immune from criminal prosecution.

Sauer responded that the hypothetical president would “have to be speedily impeached and convicted” before a criminal prosecution could occur.

“I asked you a yes or no question,” Pan pressed. “Could a president who ordered S.E.A.L. Team 6 to assassinate a political rival, [who was] not impeached, would he be subject to criminal prosecution?”

“If he were impeached and convicted first…my answer is [a] qualified yes, there is a political process that would have to occur first.”

Trump’s bid for immunity from crimes committed while in office is part of a last-ditch bid to undermine the Justice Department’s criminal probe into his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Trump was charged in the case last August.

Trump is not accused of ordering any assassinations, but Mediaite reported this week that assassination plots were discussed by Trump’s allies in the weeks before the 2020 election. Roger Stone, a long-time right-wing political operative and acolyte to Trump, discussed assassinating Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) with his associate Sal Greco.

According to an audio recording of the conversation obtained by Mediaite, Stone told Greco that it was “time to do it … Let’s go find Swalwell. It’s time to do it. Then we’ll see how brave the rest of them are. It’s time to do it. It’s either Nadler or Swalwell has to die before the election. They need to get the message. Let’s go find Swalwell and get this over with. I’m just not putting up with this shit anymore.”

Stone was pardoned by Trump in 2020 following a conviction on charges of witness tampering and lying to Congress related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The former president pardoned several of his political allies, and if reelected he plans to bestow upon himself wide-ranging executive powers reminiscent of a dictatorship. This, combined with the arguments made Tuesday by his attorneys lay bare the ultimate goals of the former president — a system in which the president exists wholly above the law.

The absurdity of Sauer’s argument was not lost on the Justice Department’s lawyer, James Pearce. “What kind of world are we living in … if a president orders his S.E.A.L. team to murder a political rival and then resigns or is not impeached? [And] that is not a crime? I think that is an extraordinarily frightening future that should weigh heavily on the court’s decision,” he told the judges.

Following the conclusion of the hearing, Trump addressed reporters outside of the courtroom. The former president argued that the criminal cases were a ploy by President Joe Biden to win the 2024 election. “It will be bedlam in the country. It is a very bad thing. A very bad precedent as we said, the opening of a Pandora’s box,” Trump said.

“When they talk about threat to democracy, that is your real threat to democracy. I feel that as a president, you have to have immunity, very simple,” he added.

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