The ruling is a setback for Trump’s attempt to escape prosecution in the federal case of election interference, which is scheduled for trial in March.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has rejected a motion to drop Special Counsel Jack Smith’s indictment that accuses the former president of trying to subvert the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
The motion, filed by lawyers representing Donald Trump, claimed that the indictment violates his free speech rights under the First Amendment. His lawyers urged Chutkan to apply former President Richard Nixon’s immunity from civil lawsuits while in office, a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that shielded the president from legal action.
“Here, 234 years of uninterrupted historical precedent—from 1789 until 2023— demonstrate convincingly that the authority to indict a former president for his official conduct does not exist,” his lawyers contended.
That argument did not persuade. On Friday, Chutkan issued a harsh ruling that made one thing unmistakably clear: Trump is not above the law and he will face trial.
“Defendant’s four-year tenure as Commander in Chief did not grant him the royal prerogative of kings to avoid the criminal responsibility that applies to his fellow citizens,” Chutkan wrote in the ruling. “It is well established that the First Amendment does not protect speech that is employed as a tool of a crime.”
Chutkan recalled the admonitions of America’s first president, George Washington, who warned that “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” would exploit “all impediments to the enforcement of the laws.”
“In this case, [Trump] is charged with attempting to seize the control of government as Washington anticipated,” Chutkan wrote.
The ruling is a hindrance for Trump’s attempt to evade prosecution in the federal case of election interference, which is set for trial in March.
Smith’s indictment charged Trump with four felonies related to his efforts to retain power after the 2020 election and leading up to the Jan. 6 assault at the Capitol.
“The defendant is unique in American history for his alleged crimes,” Smith asserted earlier this month, rejecting Trump’s immunity claim. “No other president has engaged in conspiracy and obstruction to overturn valid election results and illegitimately retain power.