Trump asks judge to halt documents case after Supreme Court immunity ruling

Trump asks judge to halt documents case after Supreme Court immunity ruling

Washington — Former President Donald Trump and his legal team asked the federal judge overseeing the case involving his handling of sensitive government documents to pause proceedings until she resolves his pending requests to toss out the charges based on presidential immunity and the constitutionality of special counsel Jack Smith’s appointment.

The motion from Trump and his lawyers was among filings they submitted to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Friday, which cite the Supreme Court’s decision Monday that found former presidents are entitled to immunity from federal prosecution for official acts taken while they occupied the Oval Office.

Trump and his legal team argued that the partial stay is warranted based on the high court’s reasoning in that case, which arose out of Trump’s prosecution by Smith in Washington, D.C., related to the 2020 election.

filing. “A partial stay is also appropriate to prevent further exploitation of judicial institutions and resources by Executive Branch personnel in connection with the shameful ongoing lawfare campaign.”

Trump asked Cannon in February to toss out the charges brought against him on the grounds he is entitled to presidential immunity and that Smith’s appointment violates the Constitution’s Appointments and Appropriations Clauses. She has yet to rule on either of his requests.

The former president is facing 40 charges related to his alleged mishandling of documents marked classified after leaving office in January 2021 and efforts to obstruct the Justice Department’s investigation. He has pleaded not guilty.

This image, contained in the indictment against former President Donald Trump, shows boxes of records being stored on the stage in the White and Gold Ballroom at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
This image, contained in the indictment against former President Donald Trump, shows boxes of records being stored on the stage in the White and Gold Ballroom at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

Justice Department via AP

In addition to seeking the pause in proceedings, Trump and his lawyers suggested they and Smith submit additional briefs in the case to debate whether the conduct alleged in the indictment is official or unofficial.

Trump has argued in each of the three ongoing prosecutions — two brought by Smith in federal court and the third pursued by prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia — that he is entitled to sweeping legal protections from prosecution because the alleged conduct occurred while he was in office. The former president has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

But Smith and his team of prosecutors urged Cannon to deny his request, arguing that the indictment returned by a federal grand jury last year does not charge Trump for any actions he undertook as president. 

“Every criminal charge in the superseding indictment is based upon conduct in which Trump engaged after he left office,” the special counsel argued in a March filing. “Even if a former president could claim some immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts — and he cannot — Trump could not benefit from any such immunity in this case.”

In its ruling Monday, the high court’s conservative majority said that official acts that are part of presidents’ “core constitutional powers” are entitled to absolute immunity, while acts that fall within the outer perimeter of his official responsibilities are covered by “presumptive immunity.” Former presidents are not immune from federal charges arising from unofficial acts.

While the Supreme Court’s decision stemmed from allegations Trump unlawfully attempted to subvert the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election, it is expected to impact the other criminal cases against him.

In a second filing to Cannon, who sits on the federal district court in South Florida, Trump’s lawyers argued that the Supreme Court’s ruling “guts the [special counsel’s] position that President Trump has ‘no immunity’ and further demonstrates the politically-motivated nature of their contention that the motion is ‘frivolous,'” they wrote. The decision, his legal team continued, “also confirms that the Office cannot rely on ‘official acts’ evidence in this case.”

The majority opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts said the government is barred from introducing official acts as evidence in the prosecution of a former president.

In their latest filings, Trump’s lawyers also highlighted a concurring opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas that questioned the legality of Smith’s appointment. No other justice joined Thomas’ opinion, and it is not binding.

“If this unprecedented prosecution is to proceed, it must be conducted by someone duly authorized to do so by the American people,” Thomas wrote.

The former president and his lawyers argued in their filings that Thomas’ opinion bolsters their bid to toss out the prosecution based on Smith’s allegedly unlawful appointment.

“These circumstances call for heightened caution while the court addresses threshold issues regarding Smith’s lack of authority to drive this prosecution forward on the dangerous and reckless course he has repeatedly sought to foist upon the court,” they wrote.

Trump was charged in South Florida last year, and the case has proceeded slowly. A trial was set to begin in late May, but Cannon indefinitely postponed its start. Her decision to put off the trial, as well as the Supreme Court’s immunity ruling, makes it highly unlikely either of Smith’s cases against Trump will be tried before the Nov. 5 general election.