This is a summary from today’s Washington Post of one of the legal issues the Court of Appeals (and probably, ultimately the US Supreme Court) is wrestling with. Namely, can a President be criminally prosecuted for an act he takes in office without first being impeached by the House and tried and convicted by the Senate?
"Trump attorney D. John Sauer argued that presidential immunity means that a president cannot be prosecuted for any actions that fall under his presidential duties — unless the House first votes to impeach him and the Senate then convicts him.
Judge Florence Y. Pan, an appointee of President Biden, asked Sauer if a president could be criminally prosecuted if he ordered SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival. Such a scenario — ordering the military to do something — would fall under presidential duties. But having a rival murdered would also be a clear violation of the law.
Sauer said the Justice Department could only charge the president for giving such an order if the Senate votes to convict him first. Pan also asked him whether a president could sell pardons or nuclear secrets without being prosecuted. Sauer responded similarly.
Pan seemed skeptical and said that conceding that a president can be prosecuted for official acts in any instance — say, after the congressional impeachment and conviction process — undermines the president’s presidential immunity argument.
“Given that you’re conceding that presidents can be criminally prosecuted, doesn’t that narrow the issues before us to, ‘Can a president be prosecuted without first being impeached and convicted?’” Pan said. She added, “Once you concede that presidents can be prosecuted under some circumstances, your other arguments fall away.”
The judges were clearly concerned that accepting Trump’s argument would open a Pandora’s box of horrible acts by future presidents that would go unchecked and unpunished.
Trump’s lawyer tried to convince the panel that the real danger was letting this case go forward and opening a door to future presidents operating in fear of being prosecuted when they left office."