Attorneys for Donald Trump and the Justice Department special counsel argued Tuesday over whether the former president is immune from prosecution for official acts, including those alleged in the special counsel’s criminal indictment.
Trump flew in from Florida Monday night to attend the arguments in person, although he was not legally required to do so.
A panel of three federal appellate judges heard the oral arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columba Circuit.
Trump’s attorney, John Sauer, tried to convince the judges that unless a president has been convicted by the Senate in a formal impeachment vote, he cannot be criminally prosecuted for actions he took while in office.
The judges appeared skeptical of this line of reasoning.
“You’re saying a president could sell pardons, could sell military secrets, could order SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival” with impunity, said Judge Florence Pan, who was appointed by President Joe Biden.
“I think it’s paradoxical to say that [Trump’s] constitutional duty to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ allows him to violate criminal law,” said Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, quoting from the Constitution. LeCraft Henderson was appointed by Republican President George H.W. Bush.
The outcome of the arguments will have major implications, not only for Trump’s legal battles — and his 2024 presidential bid — but the power of the presidency itself.