Trump Takes A One-Two Gut Punch On Presidential Immunity

INSIDE: Tanya Chutkan ... Rudy G ... Christian Ziegler
ANKENY, IOWA - DECEMBER 02: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a commit to caucus campaign event at the Whiskey River bar on December 02, 2023 in Ankeny, Iowa. Iowa Republicans ... ANKENY, IOWA - DECEMBER 02: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a commit to caucus campaign event at the Whiskey River bar on December 02, 2023 in Ankeny, Iowa. Iowa Republicans will be the first to select their party's nominee for president when they go to caucus on January 15, 2024. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) MORE LESS
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.

No One Is Above The Law

A lot happened on Friday, and I unpack most of it below. But unquestionably the two most significant events were separate court rulings on the limits of presidential immunity.

The first decision came from the DC Court of Appeals and ruled that a civil lawsuit by members of Congress and law enforcement against Donald Trump for the Jan. 6 attack can proceed despite Trump’s claims of civil immunity. This was the less consequential decision of the day because while a blow to Trump it largely punted for now the question of whether Trump’s conduct as a losing candidate and around the Jan. 6 attack was within the scope of his duties as president. That’s a factual question that will need to be developed at the trial court level, and we are likely to see this issue back before the appeals court before all is said and done.

Later in the day, in a more significant decision, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan rejected Trump’s ahistorical argument that the president enjoys absolute immunity from criminal prosecution. This is Trump’s boldest, most sweeping legal defense and threatens to undermine any prosecution of him from his time in office. It’s also absurd, and Chutkan was unmoved by Trump’s arguments.

Importantly, the immunity argument is part and parcel of Trump’s delay strategy to push his prosecutions until after the 2024 election, gambling that he will win and then can use the powers of the office to make his personal criminal liability go away. The immunity ruling is appealable now and will likely end up at the Supreme Court, all of which takes time. This doesn’t, as Joyce Vance notes, fall into the category of preposterous Trump delays. “Appeals mean delay—not the sort of strategic, excessive delay that is Trump’s hallmark in court proceedings, but delay as a necessary incident to the process.” Still, time is short.

Rule Of Law Porn

So satisfying to read these lines from Judge Chutkan’s ruling against absolute immunity from criminal liability for American presidents:

Whatever immunities a sitting President may enjoy, the United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong “get-out-of-jail-free” pass.

“If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny.”

(quoting Justice Felix Frankfurter)

Every President will face difficult decisions; whether to intentionally commit a federal crime should not be one of them.

By definition, the President’s duty to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed’ does not grant special latitude to violate them.

Defendant’s four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens.

Former Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability. Defendant may be subject to federal investigation, indictment, prosecution, conviction, and punishment for any criminal acts undertaken while in office.

A former President’s exposure to federal criminal liability is essential to fulfilling our constitutional promise of equal justice under the law.

Georgia RICO Trial Date In Doubt

The trial judge overseeing Atlanta DA Fani Willis’ RICO prosecution of Trump et al. expressed skepticism from the bench Friday that the August 2024 trial date she is seeking is realistic.

Love To See The Trump Pardon Coverage

Trump’s pardons remain among the most corrupt acts of his presidency, so I happily wallow in any coverage that seeks to unpack what happened and why. Two gems over the weekend:

  • WaPo: Trump pardoned them. Now they’re helping him return to power.
  • Amanda Carpenter, a one-time aide to Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) who has become a relentless Trump critic, offers a helpful breakdown of three categories of what she calls Trump’s “henchmen pardons”:

Rudy In The Wringer As Defamation Trial Approaches

The DC federal judge overseeing the defamation case against Rudy Giuliani by Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss has rejected his attempt to avoid the jury trial set to begin next week.

Giuliani had argued inexplicably that because a default judgment on liability was entered against him (as a sanction for not complying with his pre-trial discovery obligations), a jury trial on damages was somehow inappropriate.

Sorry, no dice, the judge breezily ruled. Trial is set for Dec. 11.

WARNING: Trump Is Still At It

Even as we contend with the slow-moving legal accountability for Donald Trump’s past misdeeds, he continues to engage in the same conduct that led to his indictment for subverting the 2020 election and is now directing it toward the 2024 election.

  • Trump contends that the 2020 election was stolen and that he’ll prove it in court:
  • Trump is seeking to delegitimize, undermine and indeed threaten free and fair elections in majority Black urban areas in 2024:
  • Trump’s rhetoric is once again forcing election officials to defend publicly the integrity of the process. “When a former president is spreading disinformation, it’s up to us to be truth tellers,” said Philadelphia elections official Lisa Deeley.

Liz Cheney Keeps Sounding The Alarm

Goodbye, George Santos

Not even this House GOP, with its band of crazies and super-thin majority, could stomach any more of George Santos. That fellow members of the GOP conference were alleged victims of Santos, too, didn’t help.

There’s Effing Video??!?

The tale of the Florida GOP chairman and his Moms For Liberty wife who had a threesome with a woman who accused him of subsequently raping her – with me so far? – got a bit more sordid with the release of investigators’ search warrant affidavit:

  • Florida GOP Chair Christian Ziegler admitted to police that he recorded a video of the Oct. 2 encounter that led to the rape allegation. He initially deleted the video.
  • Bridget Ziegler acknowledged that she, her husband and the victim had sex together more than a year before the alleged rape. Christian Ziegler had known the alleged victim for more than 20 years.
  • Christian Ziegler said he and the victim had sex during the Oct. 2 encounter but that it was consensual.
  • The victim said she had agreed to meet with both Zieglers on the day in question but canceled when she learned Bridget Ziegler wouldn’t be coming, too.
  • After the alleged rape, the victim, with police monitoring her communications, engaged with Christian Ziegler via text and telephone until he started to suspect he was being recorded.

Christian Ziegler has denied wrongdoing.

Appeals Court Sinks Abbott’s Rio Grande Buoys

The 5th Circuit ruled against Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and in favor of the Biden administration, ordering Texas to remove the border buoys in the Rio Grande. The buoys were but a part of Abbott’s long-running performance pretending that Texas is still a republic and in control of the border with Mexico.

I’m Sensing A Pattern Here

September: Unapologetic ex-ambassador avoids prison in illicit lobbying case

December: Former US ambassador arrested in Florida, accused of serving as an agent of Cuba

Sandra Day O’Connor, 1930-2023

(Original Caption) July 15, 1981 – Washington: President Reagan sits with Sandra O’Connor in the Rose Garden. Judge O’Connor, on a courtesy call to the President, was chosen by Reagan to be the first woman Supreme Court Justice.

The first woman on the Supreme Court lived long enough to see four women sitting on the high court simultaneously.

Do you like Morning Memo? Let us know!

Latest Morning Memo

Comments are not currently available for this post.

Continue Discussion
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: