By Jack Phillips
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday suggested that former President Donald Trump’s legal arguments that he is immune from prosecution is legitimate.
The longtime senator was asked during a CBS News interview on Sunday on whether he stands by a 2021 comment that President Trump could be prosecuted because, according to the statement, “the president’s conduct is subject to the law of the land.”
“It depends on what the conduct is,” Mr. Graham said in response.
President Trump was charged with four counts by special counsel Jack Smith earlier this year, charging him with working to illegally overturn the 2020 election. The former president’s lawyers have argued that President Trump was the commander-in-chief at the time and was acting in his capacity as president, meaning he’s immune from prosecution.
“If you’re doing your job as president—and January the sixth, he was still president trying to find out if the election, you know, was on the up and up—I think his immunity claim, I don’t know how it will bear out, but I think it’s a legitimate claim,” he continued.
Mr. Graham then defended President Trump, saying he gave a “fiery speech” on Jan. 6, 2021, and didn’t play much of a role during the breach of the Capitol that day.
“They’re prosecuting him for activity around January the sixth. He didn’t break into the Capitol. He gave a fiery speech, but he’s not the first guy to ever do that,” Mr. Graham said. “So at the end of the day, I think this case will not go to trial before the election. I think there are more legal issues around this than you can even imagine about—what can a president do as president? What are the limitations of being president?”
An official does “have presidential immunity to do your job. I mean, I have immunity to do my job under the Speech and Debate Clause,” he explained. “That’s what the legal issue is.”
“This went before the nation through impeachment, and he got acquitted. I think January 6 is baked into the cake. I think the Jack Smith cases are not changing the political outcome in polling. We’ll see what the court does,“ the senator said. ”At the end of the day, Donald Trump is in a good position to win the Republican primary because Republicans believe he had a good presidency, and I think he can win the general election.”
The presidential immunity question was appealed before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month by the Smith team, but the justices declined to fast-track a review of the case.
The ruling is a scheduling win for Trump and his lawyers, who have attempted delay the criminal cases against him as he campaigns to reclaim the White House in 2024. It averts a swift ruling from the nation’s highest court that could have definitively turned aside his claims of immunity, and it further throws into doubt the possibility of the landmark trial proceeding as scheduled on March 4.
The issue may now be decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has signaled it will act quickly to decide the case. Mr. Smith had cautioned that even a rapid appellate decision might not get to the Supreme Court in time for review and final word before the court’s traditional summer break.
President Trump’s lawyers plan to ask the court to overturn a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court barring him from that state’s ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits anyone who swore an oath to support the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection” against it from holding office. The former president has not been charged with or convicted of insurrection or rebellion.
His lawyers have for months signaled that they would ultimately ask the Supreme Court to take up the immunity question. But they urged the justices this week to stand down for now, saying there was no reason to rush a decision.
“Importance does not automatically necessitate speed,“ they wrote. ”If anything, the opposite is usually true. Novel, complex, sensitive and historic issues—such as the existence of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts—call for more careful deliberation, not less.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.