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‘Our Guy Gets To Commit Crimes’: Democratic Senator Slams Trump’s Immunity Claims

In World
January 12, 2024

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on Thursday took to the Senate floor to condemn former President Donald Trump’s claims for total immunity from criminal prosecution, an unprecedented legal argument he said is “impossible to ignore and must cause alarm.”

“I don’t want everybody to wake up every morning freaked out about whatever Donald Trump says,” Schatz said, “but today, this week, it is worth marking what his lawyers said because it is an official position of a presidential candidate and it is a position that is antithetical to what we all believe in.”

“This is not a tweet. This is not a comment in a town hall,” he added. “What this is the official position of the lawyers of the [former] president of the United States.”

Trump’s attorneys argued in federal court this week that his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Congress, were official acts and that he is therefore immune from prosecution by the Justice Department, which has charged him with three conspiracy counts. They also argued that presidents may only ever be convicted if impeached by the U.S. House and then tried in the Senate.

Trump was, of course, impeached over the Jan. 6 insurrection, but he was acquitted by a majority of Senate Republicans, many of whom viewed Trump as responsible for inciting the attack. GOP senators relied on a tortured legal rationale that, in part, suggested the proper venue to hold Trump accountable was not in Congress but rather in the U.S. legal system.

Now, Schatz noted, with the legal system bearing down on Trump, his attorneys are arguing the opposite.

“Three years ago, Trump’s legal team said that it was the job of the criminal justice system to deal with statutory crimes, not the Senate. … Their argument was explicit, which was, ‘This is not the venue.’ And now Trump’s lawyers are arguing in the other venue, ‘I’m sorry, what I meant was, this is the venue,’” he said, referring to Congress. “So what they are really saying is, ‘Our guy gets to commit crimes.’ I want everybody to think about the consequences of this argument. Any president can commit any crime?”

Congressional GOP reaction to Trump’s extraordinary arguments in court has been muted. Some of his top allies in the Senate called them plausible while other Republican senators declined comment, saying it was up to the Supreme Court to settle. Trump is expected to appeal to the high court if he loses in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump’s rival for the 2024 presidential nomination, meanwhile, stated the obvious in Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate by calling the absurd argument from Trump’s attorney that the assassination of political rivals is protected by presidential immunity “ridiculous.”

“You can’t go and kill a political rival and claim immunity,” Haley said on CNN.

In his floor speech on Thursday, Schatz said he hoped members of the Senate and the American people would take Trump’s words seriously, quoting from his remarksin recent weeks about what he plans for a second term.

Trump, the Hawaii Democrat said, “does not believe in American-style democracy. He doesn’t. He doesn’t believe he should be accountable, he believes he should be immune. He believes that when and if he becomes president again that he will exact revenge, that he will be a dictator from day one, and that if he is held accountable for his crimes, there will be bedlam.”

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