Analysis-Trump election subversion case bogs down as allies' legal woes grow

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Trump's criminal trial on charges of falsifying business records continues in New York

By Andrew Goudsward, Andrew Chung and John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump got another break when the U.S. Supreme Court signaled some support for his immunity claim, even as more of his allies faced prosecution for the former president's attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Trump, seeking to regain the presidency this year, has managed to delay three of the four criminal cases against him. At the same time, the legal peril has ramped up for Trump associates and supporters who stand accused of aiding his attempt to hold onto power after his defeat.

State authorities in Arizona on Wednesday charged 18 people accused of plotting to illegally claim the state's 2020 electoral votes for Trump despite Joe Biden's narrow victory there. Trump was named as an uncharged co-conspirator.

The Supreme Court on Thursday appeared open to the idea of narrowing the federal criminal case against Trump, which is focused on many of the same events as the Arizona case, based on the view that presidents should have some legal protection for conduct that is part of their official responsibilities.

Trump, the Republican candidate challenging Democrat Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election in a rematch from four years ago, has not fully shielded himself from legal consequences. He is currently on trial in New York on charges that he falsified records to pay hush money to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election, a case that does not involve his official actions as president.

But Trump's status as a former president has enabled him to challenge legal cases in ways unavailable to others accused of attempting to subvert the election on his behalf. Indeed, Trump appointed three of the justices on the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority.

"The U.S. Supreme Court had a monumental hearing on immunity," Trump said on Thursday as he left court in Manhattan. "I hear the meeting was quite amazing, quite amazing - and the justices were on their game."

Questions posed by the justices on Thursday about how their ruling would affect future presidents underscored just how different Trump's case is compared to the prosecution of his low-level allies.

"This case has huge implications for the presidency, for the future of the presidency, for the future of the country," said conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump appointee.


A Supreme Court ruling that former presidents are entitled to some limited immunity would still be a victory for Trump. It may require further analysis by lower courts on which of his allegedly unlawful actions would be considered official - as opposed to strictly private and open to prosecution – further reducing the chances of a trial before the election.

In the past several months, Republican officials and Trump allies have been charged in four states, accused of falsely holding themselves as legitimate presidential electors to be tallied by Congress in its certification of the 2020 election results.

Those charged in Arizona include 11 people who falsely claimed to be the legitimate Trump electors from the state as well as his former personal lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Giuliani, Eastman and Meadows also have been charged alongside Trump in a racketeering case brought by local prosecutor Fani Willis in Georgia, another election battleground state where Trump sought to reverse a narrow loss. Three people accused of serving as fake Trump electors in Georgia have been charged in that case. All have pleaded not guilty.

State attorneys general in Michigan and Nevada brought criminal cases last year against other so-called fake electors that did not include Trump or his top advisers.


Defense lawyers in some cases have claimed that the pro-Trump electors viewed their role as contingent upon the success of lawsuits and other means Trump used to challenge the election results.

"The problem is we don't have any clear guidelines or clear law as to what crosses the line," said Manny Arora, an attorney for Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer who advised the Trump campaign.

Chesebro has pleaded guilty in the Georgia case and has spoken to investigators in other states.

Some defendants have attempted to use their former offices to benefit their defense, with limited success. Meadows unsuccessfully sought to move the Georgia case to federal court, arguing that he had acted as a federal officeholder.

Trump's supporters also have faced criminal consequences for breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed attempt to block Congress from certifying Biden's victory. Nearly 1,400 people have been charged and more than 500 have been sentenced to prison terms, according to U.S. Justice Department figures.

While much of Thursday's questioning by conservative justices seemed to signal a preference for further analysis on official-versus-private conduct, questions by two justices seemed to leave a door open to a Trump trial going ahead even if some immunity is recognized by the Supreme Court.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, another Trump appointee, wondered if any of the allegations concerning solely private conduct could go to trial with the "speed" favored by Special Counsel Jack Smith, who brought the federal election-related charges.

"Is another option for the special counsel to just proceed based on the private conduct and drop the official conduct?" Barrett asked Michael Dreeben, who was arguing on behalf on the special counsel.

Liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson emphasized that possibility, asking if there are "sufficient allegations in the indictment in the government's view that fall into the 'private acts' bucket that the case should be allowed to proceed?"

"Correct," Dreeben responded.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung, Andrew Goudsward and John Kruzel; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)