Donald Trump does not have presidential immunity and can be prosecuted in an election interference case, a US appeals court has ruled.
The court in Washington ruled that there was no basis for Mr Trump to assert that former presidents have blanket immunity from prosecution for any acts committed as president.
The ruling means he can be prosecuted for actions he took while in the White House from January 2017 and in the run-up to 6 January 2021, when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol.
It is the second time in as many months that judges have rejected his claims to be exempt from prosecution.
The Republican, who is the overwhelming favourite to be nominated to run again in November, is expected to appeal and the case may ultimately be decided in the US Supreme Court.
The judges wrote in their decision: “We conclude that the interest in criminal accountability, held by both the public and the executive branch, outweighs the potential risks of chilling presidential action and permitting vexatious litigation.”
They did not set a date for a trial, which was originally set for next month, before being postponed last week.
The date is politically significant, as Mr Trump would prefer to delay it until after the US general election in November.
If his nomination is confirmed and he defeats Democrat president Joe Biden, he could presumably try to use his position as head of the executive branch to order a new attorney general to dismiss the federal cases or he could potentially seek a pardon for himself.
Last month, the Supreme Court turned down a chance to get involved, by rejecting a request from special counsel Jack Smith to take up the matter quickly and issue a speedy ruling.
The court has previously decided presidents are immune from civil liability for official acts, and Mr Trump’s lawyers have for months argued that that protection should be extended to criminal prosecution as well.
In December, US district judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over the case, rejected Mr Trump’s arguments, stating that presidents do not have “a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass.”
It is one of four criminal prosecutions Mr Trump is battling as he tries to reclaim the White House, which he lost to Mr Biden in 2020.
He faces federal charges in Florida that he illegally retained classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and is set for trial in May.
He is also charged in state court in Georgia with scheming to subvert that state’s 2020 election, and in New York in connection with hush money payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Mr Trump has continued campaigning despite his legal difficulties, frequently telling supporters he is the victim of a “witch hunt”. Skynews