Temporal pause in Trump's 2020 election case as Judge addresses immunity dispute

The federal judge presiding over former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election lawsuit has decided to temporarily halt proceedings as Trump challenges a judgment on whether he is entitled to broad immunity from criminal prosecution.

In a brief order issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan approved Trump’s request to pause proceedings while he appeals. Chutkan stated that Trump’s appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit requires her to automatically stop any further procedures that would bring the case to trial.

According to Chutkan, Trump’s action gives the higher court jurisdiction over the matter. If the case is returned to her, she says she would examine “whether to retain or continue the dates of any still-future deadlines and proceedings, including the trial scheduled for March 4.” If Trump’s immunity claim is finally rejected, the case will be returned to her, allowing the prosecution to proceed.

Temporal pause in Trump's 2020 election case as Judge addresses immunity dispute

In August, Trump was accused of four counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, with prosecutors suggesting he organized a plot to prevent a peaceful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election. He pled not guilty to the accusations and has maintained his innocence.

Trump urged Chutkan to dismiss the charges last month, claiming that he was immune from federal prosecution since the alleged conduct occurred while he was president and entailed acts inside the “outer perimeter” of his official duties. The judge rejected his claim of presidential immunity.

While Trump petitioned the D.C. Circuit to review Chutkan’s ruling, special counsel Jack Smith urged the Supreme Court to hear the matter on Monday, bypassing the appeals court entirely. The Supreme Court agreed to expedite its decision on whether to hear the case and gave Trump until December 20 to respond to Smith’s request.

Chutkan said in her ruling Wednesday that she will continue to enforce current safeguards she imposed to “safeguard the integrity” of the proceedings, such as a gag order restricting what Trump can say publicly about the case and a protective order governing the use of “sensitive” material.

Temporal pause in Trump's 2020 election case as Judge addresses immunity dispute

“Maintaining those measures does not advance the case towards trial or impose burdens of litigation on Defendant beyond those he already carries,” she wrote in the letter. “And if a criminal defendant could bypass those critical safeguards merely by asserting immunity and then appealing its denial, then during the appeal’s pendency, the defendant could irreparably harm any future proceedings and their participants.”

Chutkan, on the other hand, stated that she would be bound by any ruling made by a higher court regarding those measures.

The special counsel’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the order.

The D.C. Circuit generally affirmed Chutkan’s gag order last week, to the extent that it prevents Trump from making public statements regarding potential witnesses in the case, lawyers, court staff, lawyers’ staff, and their family members. However, the former president can continue to criticize Smith, the Justice Department, and the Biden administration while maintaining his innocence and claiming that his prosecution is politically motivated.

Trump has stated that he will appeal the three-judge panel’s decision, but has not yet done so formally.

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