NEW YORK – Former President Donald Trump promoted an extreme interpretation of presidential immunity on his social media platform Thursday morning, suggesting presidents should be permitted to “cross the line” without facing any legal repercussions. His provocative comments come as an appeals court prepares to rule on whether he can claim immunity from criminal prosecution over efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Trump’s latest remarks propose an essentially unlimited view of presidential authority, arguing that presidents must have “total immunity” to properly carry out their duties. He claimed that otherwise, years would be wasted determining “good from bad” presidential actions. Trump likened the situation to allowing police officers leeway for “strong and effective crime prevention,” tolerating occasional “rogue cops” in the name of public safety.
Sometimes you just have to live with ‘great but slightly imperfect,'” the former president wrote on his Truth Social platform. The post follows controversial statements by Trump’s attorney in oral arguments this month, when pressed by judges about hypothetical criminal acts like selling state secrets or assassinating political rivals. Attorney Dean John Sauer maintained even those actions would not make a president liable to prosecution without prior impeachment and conviction by Congress.
Legal experts see the immunity arguments floated by Trump and his lawyer as extreme and unlikely to prevail. Nonetheless, the series of events highlight how the former president continues to push legal boundaries in search of reprieve from his escalating legal troubles.
Charges Test Unsettled Area of Law
The posts come as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit weighs whether to dismiss the federal criminal case against Trump for attempting to overturn his 2020 election loss. Trump faces four felony counts in that case, including obstruction of an official proceeding. He has pleaded not guilty.
A district court judge previously rejected Trump’s motion to have the charges thrown out on immunity grounds. Now on appeal, the question turns on unsettled areas of law regarding presidential immunity from prosecution.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled presidents cannot be sued civilly over official acts taken while in office. However, the high court has not definitively answered whether former presidents maintain immunity from criminal prosecution over actions undertaken during their term.
Trump aims to push the boundaries of presidential immunity further still, arguing the constitutional separation of powers doctrine makes sitting or former presidents immune from prosecution for nearly any action tied to their duties. During oral arguments, the former president’s legal team asserted the only recourse for alleged criminal acts would be congressional impeachment.
Prosecutors Counter With Hypothetical Crimes
Federal prosecutors strongly dispute those assertions, calling them an “extraordinarily frightening” view of executive power. Addressing Trump’s attorneys, Justice Department lawyer James Pearce argued accepting their stance would mean “if a former president engages in assassination…there is no accountability for that individual.”
Judges also pressed Trump’s legal team with hypothetical scenarios during oral arguments, asking if it would be permissible for a president to sell sensitive national security documents or murder political opponents without facing criminal charges. Attorney Dean John Sauer maintained even those acts would warrant impeachment but not prosecution.
Trump did not directly respond to those shocking examples following the hearing. He told reporters, “I feel that as president you have to have immunity, very simple.”
On Truth Social, he echoed his unwavering view that presidents must have “FULL IMMUNITY” or the ability to “PROPERLY FUNCTION” would suffer. He also called on the Supreme Court to bless his expansive views of executive power, writing “GOD BLESS THE SUPREME COURT!
Potential Ramifications of a Trump Victory
The appeals court could rule on Trump’s motion to dismiss at any time. While judges sounded skeptical during oral arguments, the outcome remains uncertain.
If the appeals court sides with Trump, it would likely pause the criminal proceedings indefinitely pending further appeals. That could push any trial until late 2024 or beyond. An appeals victory would also embolden Trump to pursue similar immunity claims in other cases, including an ongoing criminal probe in Georgia.
On the other hand, if the appeals court rejects Trump’s immunity arguments, the former president has vowed to take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. The resulting legal process could still delay proceedings substantially as the 2024 election approaches.
Perhaps most troubling to Trump’s critics, the former president and current 2024 candidate appears to be telegraphing his intent to use a hypothetical second term to pursue vendettas against perceived enemies.
Trump has spoken about appointing loyalists to key Justice Department posts to target President Biden and others. Last month, he remarked he intended to wield dictatorial powers “on day one” of a new administration, making provocative references to sealing the border and expanding oil drilling against the public will.
Later he dismissed those comments as joking, but his authoritarian language continues to raise alarms as he campaigns while also battling an array of criminal and civil allegations in court.