Donald Trump, seeking to dismiss the federal case accusing him of trying to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election, argued on Thursday that he cannot be prosecuted because U.S. presidents are immune from criminal charges.
“Here, 234 years of unbroken historical practice – from 1789 until 2023 – provide compelling evidence that the power to indict a former President for his official acts does not exist,” Trump’s lawyers wrote to the U.S. District Court in Washington.
Trump, president from 2017 to 2021, has regularly made sweeping claims of immunity both while in office and since leaving the White House. Courts have rejected these claims.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2020 spurned Trump’s argument that he was absolutely immune from state criminal investigations while president.
A U.S. judge last year ruled that Trump was not immune from civil lawsuits seeking to hold him liable for his supporters’ violence during a Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. The judge said Trump’s actions leading up to the riot, casting doubt on the election results, were not official responsibilities.
Trump is appealing that ruling.
U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith charged Trump in August with four felony counts for attempting to interfere in the counting of votes and to block the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Trump has pleaded not guilty.
The case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump, 77, faces as he seeks to retake the White House. He is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024.
In their court filing on Thursday, his lawyers assert that acts mentioned in the indictment are “at the heart of his official responsibilities as President.”
These acts include meetings where Trump allegedly urged the Justice Department to investigate baseless claims of voter fraud and pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the election.
A spokesperson for Smith’s office declined to comment.
Trump has asserted that impeachment, where the U.S. Congress can charge and try presidents for misconduct, is the appropriate way to hold presidents accountable for official actions.
The House of Representatives impeached Trump for allegedly inciting the Jan. 6 riot. The Senate later acquitted him.