Appeals court rejects Trump's immunity claim in federal election interference case

Trump had wanted the case dismissed based on his claim of "absolute immunity."

A three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals has rejected former President Donald Trump's claim of presidential immunity as it pertains to his federal election interference case.

"For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant," the judges wrote in their 57-page decision, saying that "Former President Trump lacked any lawful discretionary authority to defy federal criminal law and he is answerable in court for his conduct."

"We reject all three potential bases for immunity both as a categorical defense to federal criminal prosecutions of former Presidents and as applied to this case in particular," the decision said.

"We cannot accept former President Trump's claim that a President has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power -- the recognition and implementation of election results," wrote the judges. "Nor can we sanction his apparent contention that the Executive has carte blanche to violate the rights of individual citizens to vote and to have their votes count."

"At bottom, former President Trump's stance would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches," they wrote.

Trump, responding on his social media platform, wrote, "A President of the United States must have Full Immunity in order to properly function and do what has to be done for the good of our Country. ... If not overturned, as it should be, this decision would terribly injure not only the Presidency, but the Life, Breath, and Success of our Country."

Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement that "President Trump respectfully disagrees with the DC Circuit's decision and will appeal it in order to safeguard the Presidency and the Constitution."

"If immunity is not granted to a President, every future President who leaves office will be immediately indicted by the opposing party," the statement said. "Without complete immunity, a President of the United States would not be able to properly function!"

A spokesperson for special counsel Jack Smith declined to comment on the ruling.

The appellate judges heard arguments in early January on Trump's efforts to dismiss the case on immunity grounds.

Last week, after waiting nearly a month for the appellate court's decision, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan postponed the March 4 start date for Trump's trial.

Trump, who in August pleaded not guilty to charges of undertaking a "criminal scheme" to overturn the results of the 2020 election, was seeking the dismissal of the case on the grounds that he has "absolute immunity" from prosecution for actions taken while serving in the nation's highest office.

The former president, who attended the Jan. 9 hearing in person, has denied all wrongdoing and denounced the election interference charges as "a persecution of a political opponent."

The appeals court took up the matter after the Supreme Court in December denied the special counsel's request to immediately take up Trump's claims of immunity, declining to grant a writ of certiorari before judgment -- meaning it would allow a federal appeals court to hear the matter first, which is what Trump's legal team had sought.

Smith had asked the Supreme Court to step in and quickly rule on the issue -- a potentially landmark decision that could, for the first time in American history, determine whether a former U.S. president can be prosecuted for actions taken while in office.

In their decision, the appellate judges gave Trump until Feb. 12 to ask the Supreme Court to stay the appellate court's ruling and take up the issue on an emergency basis. It's not immediately clear when the Supreme Court would respond to such a request.

Trump could also ask the full D.C. Circuit Court to rehear the case, but that separate request would not prevent the proceedings from being sent back to Judge Chutkan's trial court, unless the full court agreed to take up the issue.

ABC News' Lalee Ibssa and Soo Rin Kim contributed to this report.