License to Ill

Former U.S. President Donald Trump departs the Waldorf Astoria where he held a press conference following his appearance in court on January, 9 2024, in Washington, D.C. The D.C. Appeals Court held a hearing on the former president's claim that he is immune from prosecution in the 2020 election case. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Donald Trump’s lawyer suggested to three federal judges that if a president ordered an arm of the U.S. government to assassinate a political rival, that president probably shouldn’t face criminal consequences for it.

Add that to the ever-unspooling list of “things I can’t believe we’ve actually had to talk about since 2016,” as one of my editors said this morning. To make matters more absurd, Trump was sitting right there in the courtroom when his attorney, D. John Sauer, said it.

The occasion was an appellate hearing on Trump’s claim of absolute immunity for his conduct surrounding January 6. He can’t be prosecuted for “official acts” taken in the course of his presidential duties, Sauer insisted, touching off a predictable debate over the potential absurdities of such an argument. Anything a president does that can kinda sorta be characterized as “official” is above the law? Selling pardons? Droning American citizens? Staging a coup in the name of protecting “election integrity”? Anything?

Yep, said Sauer—unless Congress impeaches and removes him from office over his actions. Then he can be prosecuted.

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