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Republicans criticize Trump prosecution in Supreme Court case

Senate campaign group, GOP-led states and even Mark Meadows file briefs in Trump immunity challenge

The Supreme Court building in Washington.
The Supreme Court building in Washington. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Donald Trump got backing of Republican senators, former federal officials and more than a dozen states Tuesday in his Supreme Court bid to halt criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Trump as well as Republican officials from across the country filed briefs at the high court ahead of the oral arguments next month in a case that could determine whether the presumptive Republican nominee for president may face trial on those charges before this fall’s election.

Trump’s attorneys argued in a brief that the former president’s alleged efforts to stop vote counting in several states and orchestrating a false slate of presidential electors fell within his duties as president to combat election fraud.

“The President cannot function, and the Presidency itself cannot retain its vital independence, if the President faces criminal prosecution for official acts once he leaves office,” Trump’s brief said.

Trump asked the Supreme Court to weigh in after a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in February that the charges could proceed and the presidency did not grant Trump a broad immunity to federal prosecution.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party’s Senate campaign arm whose members include all current Republican senators, argued in a brief that the D.C. Circuit already had decided that Trump should be punished for his actions in 2020 and worked backward from there to get its ruling.

The brief, led by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., argued that the Supreme Court has already shielded presidents from civil suits for their actions while in office.

“Criminal liability, which carries with it the concomitant power to deprive an individual of their liberty, indisputably carries with it direr consequences than the kinds of civil damages liability from which this Court has already fully shielded former Presidents for their official acts,” the brief stated.

The brief also argued that Trump should not be prosecuted because he could not have known that he could face criminal liability.

Alabama and more than a dozen Republican-led states signed on to a brief that accuses the Biden administration of playing politics with a high-profile prosecution. The brief said special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith timed the prosecution to inflict maximum damage on Trump’s candidacy for office.

“After waiting 30 months to indict President Trump, the Special Counsel has demanded extreme expedition from every court at every stage of the case. His only stated reason, the ‘public interest,’ is so thin it’s almost transparent,” the brief said.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed Smith after Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2024, and Smith took over two existing grand jury investigations. Smith unveiled the indictment in the Washington, D.C., case last year.

Former Attorneys General Edwin Meese III and Michael B. Mukasey also filed a brief criticizing the D.C. Circuit for even accepting Smith’s appointment. The group argued that Smith’s appointment violates the Constitution because no law establishes the position.

“Although this case raises a weighty issue of presidential immunity, it also necessarily raises a preliminary question, i.e., whether Jack Smith actually has authority to prosecute this case at all. He does not,” the brief stated.

Those briefs were also joined by Mark Meadows, a former White House chief of staff and House member who also weighed in, asking the court in a brief to find that Trump is immune from federal charges.

Meadows also noted that the court’s decision could “significantly influence” whether federal officials can face state criminal liability for their acts while in office.

Meadows himself faces state charges in Georgia, along with Trump and more than a dozen others, alleging they attempted to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss there. Meadows has so far failed to convince federal courts to dismiss those charges.

The justices asked for the briefing in a brief order earlier this month that set oral arguments for April 25. The case, arguably the highest-profile of the four sets of criminal charges against Trump, has been put on hold while the appeal plays out.

Smith is scheduled to respond at the Supreme Court next month. Smith asked the justices to resolve the case as fast as possible when Trump first asked the justices to weigh in, saying the trial could proceed as quickly as a few months after the Supreme Court rules.

The D.C. Circuit upheld a decision from Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who had ruled against Trump’s effort to dismiss the case. Chutkan originally scheduled Trump to stand trial starting this month but postponed the case while Trump’s appeal plays out.

Prosecutors alleged Trump led a wide-ranging effort to overturn his 2020 election loss in an indictment unveiled last year. The indictment alleged Trump tried to stop vote counting in several states, organized false slates of electors and encouraged then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the votes of states that Trump lost during the Electoral College count on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump has sought, unsuccessfully so far, to delay the multiple criminal cases against him until after the 2024 contest. The former president may go on trial in New York on state charges connected to his 2016 presidential run next month.

Other trials, in Florida on federal charges connected to classified documents that Trump kept after the end of his presidency and in Georgia on state charges connected to his effort to overturn the 2020 election, remain in limbo.

The timing of the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was corrected in this report.

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