WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for Donald Trump asked a judge Thursday to dismiss the Washington federal election subversion case against him, arguing the Republican is immune from prosecution for actions they say were taken in his official role as president.
The motion amounts to the most pointed attack yet by defense lawyers on the federal case charging Trump with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. It tees up a fight over the scope of presidential power, forcing courts to wrestle with whether the actions Trump took in his failed bid to remain in office fell within his duties as commander in chief or whether they strayed far outside his White House responsibilities and were there therefore illegal.
“Breaking 234 years of precedent, the incumbent administration has charged President Trump for acts that lie not just within the ‘outer perimeter,’ but at the heart of his official responsibilities as President,” the defense motion states. “In doing so, the prosecution does not, and cannot, argue that President Trump’s efforts to ensure election integrity, and to advocate for the same, were outside the scope of his duties.”
The presidential immunity argument had been foreshadowed for weeks by defense lawyers as one of multiple challenges they intend to bring against the indictment. A judge had set a deadline for Monday for pretrial motions like the one to dismiss the case.
Prosecutors appeared to anticipate the immunity argument, writing in the indictment that though political candidates are permitted to challenge their election losses and to even falsely claim victory, Trump’s actions strayed far beyond what is legally permissible in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, when pro-Trump rioters stormed the building to disrupt the counting of electoral votes.
Prosecutors are expected to vigorously contest the motion. It is not clear when U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan might rule, but arguments over the motion — including an appeal if she denies the request — could delay the case.
In their motion, defense lawyers argue that the actions that form the basis of the indictment, including urging the Justice Department to investigate claims of voter fraud and pressing state officials on the administration of elections, cut to the core of Trump’s responsibilities as commander in chief.
“Every action of the Defendant charged in the indictment occurred while he was still in office as President of the United States, and, according to the prosecution, all concerned a federal government function,” they wrote. “Given the all-consuming nature of the Presidency, these facts alone strongly support the notion that the indictment is based solely on President Trump’s official acts.”
Trump’s tweets and public statements about fraud in the election and Vice President Mike Pence’s role in the certification were directly related to his assertion that the election’s outcome was tainted by fraud and that the Justice Department and certain states had failed to adequately investigate it, Trump’s lawyers wrote.
The meetings detailed in the indictment with Justice Department officials also fall within his official duties because he was urging his Justice Department “to do more to enforce the laws that it is charged with enforcing.”
Prosecutors have alleged that Trump knew the claims he was pushing about election fraud were false but did so anyway in an effort to undermine the integrity of the democratic process. But Trump’s lawyers say “the president’s motivations are not for the prosecution or this Court to decide.”
The case, one of four Trump is facing, is currently set for trial on March 4, 2024.
His lawyers have separately sought the dismissal of a New York state case charging him with falsifying business records in connection with hush money paid to a porn actress who alleged an extramarital affair with Trump years earlier.
In court papers made public late Wednesday, Trump’s lawyers accused prosecutors of reviving a so-called “zombie case” to interfere with his comeback campaign for the White House and argued that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, only brought the case because of politics.
Defense lawyers also sought late Wednesday to postpone until after the 2024 presidential election the trial in a separate criminal case in Florida charging him with illegally hoarding classified documents.