Trump Lawyer: Assassination 'Could Well Be' an Official Act

Key questions from the first hours of SCOTUS hearing
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 25, 2024 11:09 AM CDT
Key Questions Asked in Trump Immunity Hearing
The Supreme Court is seen on Thursday in Washington.   (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

As Donald Trump sat in a different courtroom, the Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday on whether the former president is immune from prosecution for acts committed while in office. The AP reports that at least five justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, appeared skeptical of Trump's claims of "absolute immunity," though Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh appeared to support sending the case back to lower courts, which would delay Trump's federal trial for months. Key questions asked in the early hours of the hearing:

  • Justice Elena Kagan: Kagan said the framers of the Constitution clearly didn't want a "monarch" to run the country, CNN reports. "Wasn't the whole point that the president was not a monarch, and the president was not supposed to be above the law?" she asked.
  • Justice Sonia Sotomayor: "If the president decides that his rival is a corrupt person and he orders the military ... to assassinate him, is that within his official acts for which he can get immunity?" she asked Trump lawyer D. John Sauer. The Washington Post reports that Sauer said immunity was possible. "It would depend on the hypothetical that we can see," he said. "That could well be an official act. It could." He gave a similar answer when Kagan presented the hypothetical case of a president who'd ordered a military coup.

  • Justice Amy Coney Barrett: Barrett took issue with the Trump team's argument that a former president needs to be impeached and convicted by the Senate before a court can convict them, the AP reports. "There are many other people who are subject to impeachment, including the nine sitting on this bench, and I don't think anyone has ever suggested that impeachment would have to be the gateway to criminal prosecution for any of the many other officers subject to impeachment," she said. "So why is the president different when the impeachment clause doesn't say so?"
  • Justice Neil Gorsuch: Gorsuch asked whether presidents can pardon themselves, noting that the court has "happily" never had to deal with such questions. The New York Times reports that Sauer deflected the question, saying the main concern is that a president should be able to make bold decisions without fearing prosecution.
  • Chief Justice John Roberts: During discussion of what constitutes an official act, Roberts gave the example of a president appointing an ambassador in return for a bribe, asking, "How do you analyze that?" Sauer said it would be up to "the court's discretion," per the Post.
(More Donald Trump stories.)

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