Trump’s legal and political calendars collide less than a week before Iowa caucuses

Olivia Rinaldi

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With political rivals trying to make inroads into Donald Trump’s formidable polling lead in Iowa days before the caucuses, the former president walked into a court hearing in Washington, D.C., that he didn’t need to attend, using the legal proceeding to try to show primary voters he’s being unjustly victimized by the government.

The legal turmoil surrounding Trump, who faces 91 counts in four different cases, would be expected to sink any other presidential contender’s White House ambitions. 

But this week was the latest sign that the former president and his allies are keen on playing up the charges, not hiding them. 

While most other candidates are criss-crossing the Hawkeye State, hoping crowds will brave the sub-zero temperatures to hear them speak, Trump is spending much of this week traveling between court appearances. That has not yet affected his status as the GOP frontrunner, according to polls. 

On a rainy Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C., Trump strode into the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the location of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot that is at the heart of the federal case against him.

He didn’t need to appear in court for arguments about his claim to presidential immunity from criminal prosecution over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss. But he did so anyway and falsely told his supporters he had no choice but to show up. 

“TWICE in this final week, I will reportedly be forced off the campaign trail and into courtrooms for phony witch hunts in both New York and Washington, D.C.,” Trump wrote in a fundraising text to supporters Monday night. 

Trump has entered a not guilty plea to four felony charges in the case, which stems from his efforts to remain in power after he lost the 2020 presidential election. He has accused prosecutors of charging him as retribution for his politics.

In the courtroom, he sat stone-faced, watching as a skeptical panel of judges grilled his lawyer, John Sauer, over whether presidents are immune from criminal charges. Trump’s lawyers argue presidents are exempt from criminal prosecution for actions taken while in office, unless they are first impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate. 

“You’re saying a president could sell pardons, could sell military secrets, could tell SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival?” asked Judge Florence Pan. 

Trump’s claim to presidential immunity is a key argument in his defense against charges that he subverted the 2020 election. And his appeal on this point is also central to his defense strategy to delay his trials as long as possible. The federal election interference trial was scheduled to begin in early March, but it remains on pause while his immunity appeal is resolved. If the trial is pushed back past the November election and Trump is reelected, he could have the case dismissed or potentially pardon himself. 

“The president has a unique constitutional role, but he is not above the law,” said James Pearce, a federal prosecutor arguing the case on behalf of special counsel Jack Smith.

The sole judge appointed by a Republican, Judge Karen Henderson, pointed out, “I think it’s paradoxical to say that [a president’s] constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed allows him to violate criminal laws.”

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals was not the courtroom campaign stop that Trump may have hoped for. It was a quiet affair, where he was led in and out of the courtroom without fanfare. He was a silent participant in the proceedings, aside from conferring with his lawyers. Pouring rain may have dampened any prospects of a speech outside the courthouse.

Soon after leaving court, Trump made brief remarks at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Washington D.C., arguing that he was carrying out his job responsibilities as president when investigating voter fraud and should be immune from any prosecution of his actions. 

He owned the hotel until 2022, when his company sold it. It is now at the center of the New York civil fraud trial in which state Attorney General Letitia James is seeking to claw back Trump’s profits from that sale. 

“I feel that as a president, you have to have immunity. Very simple,” Trump said, without acknowledging his history with the property. “I did nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing wrong, working for the country.” 

Trump’s schedule has balanced campaign and court like no candidate in history, often ping ponging from one to the other in a matter of hours. 

On Oct. 24, Trump flew to New Hampshire to file for the state’s presidential primary, before rallying supporters there. The next day Trump was in New York watching his archnemesis, former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, testify in the fraud case against him. 

Twelve days later, Trump held a fundraiser in Florida that ran late into the night — skipping a debate between his GOP rivals — and by the next morning was on the stand, testifying under oath in the same case.

Attending the court proceedings is a tactic he used during the civil fraud trial, where Trump and his adult sons are accused of falsifying the value of their assets and have been found liable for fraud. 

Trump attended the trial unfolding in a Manhattan courtroom nine times, though his appearance was only required once. He often talked to the press stationed outside of the courtroom entrance about issues ranging from the Israel-Hamas war to his choice for the next Republican speaker of the House, and framed the charges against him as “election interference.”

Trump is expected to attend closing arguments for his civil fraud trial Thursday. Sources close to Trump said he talked about delivering some of his legal team’s closing remarks, but on Wednesday, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that Trump would not be allowed to address the court. Trump faces a potential lifetime ban from the real estate industry in New York and a fine of $370 million.

A new CBS News poll found most Americans disagree with Trump’s claims of presidential immunity. Over six in 10 Americans, including a solid majority of independent voters, do not think  Trump should have immunity from criminal prosecution for actions he took while he was president. 

“He’s not above the law. That’s the way this country works,” said Victor Janey, a voter from Iowa City who switched his vote from a registered independent to Republican to caucus against Trump.

By contrast, the poll also found most Republicans – including majorities of both MAGA identifiers and non-MAGA Republicans – believe Trump should be immune from criminal prosecution related to Jan. 6. 

“I believe that since the president is head of the executive branch of the government, he actually is the government and the executive branch until he leaves office,”  said Paul Keiller, retired police officer from Illinois, at a Trump rally in Clinton, Iowa.  “I think that if he does anything that is questionable, it should be taken up at the ballot box.”

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Olivia Rinaldi www.cbsnews.com

SOURCE
2024-01-11 01:40:52 , Home – CBSNews.com

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