As the old saying suggests, this one ain’t over til it’s over, but a Pennsylvania judge ruled on Monday that then-President Donald Trump was protected by presidential immunity while in office for claims he made that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged” and “stolen.” The operative words are “while in office.”
Specifically, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Michael Erdos said a 2020 election worker can’t sue the former president over a tweet he posted and comments he made from the White House while a Pennsylvania state Senate committee met in November 2022.
Trump’s statements, made without evidence, claimed fraud in Pennsylvania’s election tabulations.
Other legal proceedings may examine the propriety of his statements and actions while he was the president and whether, as the plaintiffs in this and other cases contend, it was this conduct, which served as the actual threat to our democracy. But this case is not the proper place to do so. Here, Trump is entitled to presidential immunity.
Trump lawyer Alina Habba said in a statement:
We are pleased with the Court’s decision to honor the long-standing principle of presidential immunity. Today, the Court made it clear that it is well within the president’s discretion to address the integrity of our election without fear of liability. We expect that the rest of Mr. Savage’s claims will similarly be disposed of as they are without merit.
Not to nitpick Ms. Habba’s statement, but it was (past tense) within Trump’s presidential discretion when he was (past tense) president, which Judge Erdos made clear in his decision.
James Savage, a Pennsylvania voting machine supervisor in the 2020 election, filed two lawsuits — which have since been consolidated — alleging that Trump, Rudy Giuliani, two poll watchers, and others conspired to defame him. Savage says their statements led him to receive death threats and suffer two heart attacks.
Erdos ruled Trump has immunity for the tweet and the remarks at the state Senate hearing because both statements were made while he was serving as president. But the lawsuit also contains claims over a letter Trump wrote to the House Jan. 6 committee last October, which Trump is not immune from as it was written after leaving office.
In the October 13, 2022, letter, addressed to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee’s chairman, the day after the Democrat-controlled committee voted unanimously to subpoena Trump for testimony about his role in the events of January 6, 2021, the former president wrote:
This memo is being written to express our anger, disappointment, and complaint that with all of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on what many consider to be a Charade and Witch Hunt, and despite strong and powerful requests, you have not spent even a short moment on examining the massive Election Fraud that took place during the 2020 Presidential Election, and have targeted only those who were, as concerned American Citizens, protesting the Fraud itself.
While the band plays on, the song remains the same.
The Bottom Line
While Trump is not protected over statements he’s made after leaving office, most of which he continues to make, the Pennsylvania judge’s Monday ruling was a win for the former president nonetheless. Where he — along with the country — goes from here is anyone’s guess.