“Why an Immunity Ruling in Trump’s Favor Might Not Alter the Shape of His Trial”

Charlie Savage in the NYT:

If the Supreme Court rules that Donald J. Trump is immune from being charged with crimes over official actions he took as president, it would be a momentous decision for the future of executive power and American-style democracy.

But it is far from certain that such a ruling would derail the election subversion case against him. In fact, there is a scenario in which the court could render such a ruling without altering the charges or the array of evidence that the special counsel, Jack Smith, wants to present to a jury.

Mr. Trump faces four criminal counts over his efforts to overturn his loss of the 2020 election, but none are exclusively centered on conduct Mr. Trump undertook in his capacity as president. Rather, the indictment tells a story that mixes both official acts with private ones, meaning actions Mr. Trump took in his role as a candidate for office. It then declares that each charge arises from the entire picture.

Among the accusations: Mr. Trump spread false claims of voter fraud, plotted to recruit false slates of electors from swing states, pressured Vice President Mike Pence to use their existence to block Congress’s certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory, and urged lawmakers to use the attack on the Capitol by his supporters to delay any vote.

As of yet, no court has decided which of Mr. Trump’s actions are considered official presidential conduct, versus private, unofficial campaign activity. But during oral arguments before the Supreme Court on Thursday, Justice Amy Coney Barrett floated the possibility that Mr. Smith could “just proceed based on the private conduct and drop the official conduct.”

Crucially, however, a lawyer for Mr. Smith, Michael R. Dreeben, said that even if the court ruled out basing charges on Mr. Trump’s official actions, prosecutors believed that they could still lawfully present evidence about the official conduct as relevant context that would help jurors understand Mr. Trump’s private acts.

“There’s really an integrated conspiracy here that had different components,” Mr. Dreeben said. Mr. Trump, he added, used his official powers to try to ensure his private efforts to overturn the election were more likely to succeed, and the jury will need to see the entire picture to understand the sequence, why each step occurred and the gravity of the conduct.

Mr. Dreeben added that the facts of Mr. Trump’s official acts are relevant for interpreting his “knowledge and intent” about his private conduct.

A lawyer for Mr. Trump, D. John Sauer, urged the court to adopt a very different remedy. Not only should it find that Mr. Trump had immunity for his official actions, he said, but it should omit them from the case. Still, he acknowledged that Mr. Trump could be charged over private actions while he was president.

“The official stuff has to be expunged completely from the indictment before the case can go forward,” Mr. Sauer maintained.

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