Judge Rules That Trump’s Jan. 6 Impeachment Doesn’t Stop Prosecution

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In the criminal case Trump is facing from Special Counsel Jack Smith alleging several criminal conspiracies following the 2020 presidential race, federal Judge Tanya Chutkan has rejected the argument that Trump’s previous impeachment and Senate acquittal on similar actions should block this prosecution.

The potentially involved legal principle is the Constitutional block on double jeopardy, which means facing substantially similar prosecutions for the same, underlying conduct. Though there are different rules restricting the handling of civil disputes, double jeopardy principles apply at the outset simply to criminal cases — and impeachment, with removal and a block on holding future office threatened as consequences, is not a criminal proceeding. Chutkan said the Trump team had failed to make a case raising the previous impeachment proceedings to actionable levels.

Trump’s team utilized perhaps surprising arguments in trying to make their case, pointing to Constitutional language allowing prosecutions after an impeachment conviction by the Senate as supposedly representing a block on other avenues towards prosecution — something like lawmaking by omission. Chutkan said that the argued interpretation of the relevant federal rules didn’t hold under scrutiny.

“Because Defendant’s reading is not supported by the structure of the Constitution, the historical context of the impeachment clauses, or prior constitutional precedents, expressio unius does not apply,” the judge wrote, referencing a legal principle that could have given the ex-president the opening he wanted. “The Impeachment Judgment Clause does not provide that acquittal by the Senate during impeachment proceedings shields a President from criminal prosecution after he leaves office.”

In the same, sprawling ruling, the federal judge also rejected arguments of wide-ranging presidential immunity blocking almost all prosecution on anything done ostensibly as part of presidential duties, and Chutkan also rejected contentions that Trump’s free speech rights were violated by Smith bringing the case. On that point, Chutkan outlined how there are allowances under law for charges connected to mere speech if that speech was argued to be part of something greater like the conspiracies towards criminal action in which Trump allegedly engaged.