Trump Seeks Freeze of Election Case as He Appeals Immunity Ruling

In an effort to delay the former president’s federal trial on charges of trying to overturn the election, his lawyers asked for a pause while they challenge the ruling that he is not immune from prosecution.

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Trump Seeks Freeze of Election Case as He Appeals Immunity Ruling |

Former President Donald J. Trump’s lawyers are seeking to freeze one of his federal trials while they appeal a ruling from the judge.

Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump asked a federal judge on Wednesday to put the proceedings on hold in the case charging him with seeking to overturn the 2020 election as they appeal her recent ruling that he is not immune from prosecution.

The request to freeze the case as the appeal goes forward was part of a long-planned strategy to delay any trial on the election interference charges from starting on schedule, in March.

Mr. Trump’s legal team is hoping that a protracted appeal of the immunity issue, potentially to the Supreme Court, could result in the trial being pushed off until after the 2024 election is decided. Barring that, his lawyers hope to postpone the trial at least until after the Republican Party holds its nominating convention in Milwaukee in July.

The way in which appealing the judge’s ruling has become entangled with Mr. Trump’s political calendar is typical of the way he has handled all four of the criminal cases he is facing as he mounts his third bid for the White House. He and his aides have made no secret that they believe his best shot at disposing of the four indictments against him is to be re-elected.

While Mr. Trump has sought to slow down all of his cases, he has pursued the strategy most vigorously in the election case in Federal District Court in Washington, if only because it is likely to be the first to go before a jury.

In an 11-page filing, Todd Blanche, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, told Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing the case, that such a pause was “mandatory and automatic” now that Mr. Trump had served formal notice that he intends to challenge her ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Mr. Blanche argued that Judge Chutkan no longer had control of the case and that jurisdiction over it had shifted to the appeals court. The expansive stay he requested would in essence stop the case in its tracks, pausing all of the deadlines that Judge Chutkan had already set for matters like pretrial motions, disclosures about defense trial strategies and jury selection.

The appeal and the attempt to pause the case were triggered by a decision by Judge Chutkan late last week rejecting Mr. Trump’s sweeping claims that he could not be prosecuted on the election interference charges because they were based on actions he took while he was in the White House.

In a ruling laying out a limited vision of presidential power, Judge Chutkan said that there was nothing in the law, the Constitution or American history suggesting the holder of the nation’s highest office was not bound by the federal penal code.

“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,” she wrote.

Most motions to dismiss an indictment cannot be challenged until after a defendant is convicted. But Mr. Trump was permitted to appeal Judge Chutkan’s decision on immunity because it hinged on the fundamental question of whether the charges should have been brought in the first place.

“The Constitution protects presidents in their work to make sure laws are followed, especially as it relates to elections,” Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s campaign, said in a statement. “As made clear in our appeal today, President Trump has absolute immunity from prosecution and litigation for carrying out his sworn and solemn duties as president.”

Mr. Trump’s attempts to delay the election case will now depend on how quickly the appeals court decides to hear his challenge. The court’s next steps will be to lay out a schedule for written briefs to be filed and set a time for oral arguments.

Prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, have made it clear in court papers that they were expecting Mr. Trump to mount an appeal on the immunity issue even before Judge Chutkan ruled against him. To keep things moving forward, they could ask the appeals court to decide the case on an expedited basis — but even that could take several weeks.

If Mr. Trump loses his first bid to challenge the immunity ruling before a three-judge panel of the appeals court, he could try again in front of the entire court. His lawyers plan to continue their appeals all the way to the Supreme Court if they can, hoping that even if they lose, their efforts will eat up time.

If Mr. Trump succeeds in pushing the trial until after the election and wins the race, he could have his attorney general simply toss the charges. But even if he manages only to delay the trial until the summer, it would still put Judge Chutkan in a tough position.

She would then have to decide whether to hold the proceeding during the heart of the campaign season. Such a move would no doubt prompt furious outbursts from Mr. Trump, who would be obligated to be in the courtroom every day, not campaigning.

Or she could defer to the political calendar and decide it was too fraught to put a presidential candidate on trial with the election looming.

Alan Feuer covers extremism and political violence for The Times, focusing on the criminal cases involving the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and against former President Donald J. Trump.  More about Alan Feuer

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