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FACT FOCUS: Trump wasn’t exonerated by the presidential immunity ruling, even though he says he was

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Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday misrepresented in a social media post what the U.S. Supreme Court’s Monday ruling on presidential immunity means for his civil and criminal cases.

“TOTAL EXONERATION!” he wrote in the post on his Truth Social platform. “It is clear that the Supreme Court’s Brilliantly Written and Historic Decision ENDS all of Crooked Joe Biden’s Witch Hunts against me, including the WHITE HOUSE AND DOJ INSPIRED CIVIL HOAXES in New York.”

But none of Trump’s pending cases have been dismissed as a result of the ruling, nor have the verdicts already reached against him been overturned. The ruling does amount to a major victory for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, whose legal strategy has focused on delaying court proceedings until after the 2024 election.

Here’s a closer look at the facts.

CLAIM: The Supreme Court’s ruling that former presidents have broad immunity from prosecution means “total exoneration” for former President Donald Trump.

THE FACTS: Although the historic 6-3 ruling is a win for Trump, he has not been exonerated and his legal troubles are far from over. A delay of his Washington trial on charges of election interference has been indefinitely extended as a result. Also, he still faces charges in two other criminal cases, and the verdicts already reached against him in a criminal and a civil case have not been overturned.

Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and former U.S. attorney for the state’s Eastern District, told The Associated Press that Trump’s claim is “inaccurate for a number of reasons.”

“The court found immunity from prosecution, not exoneration,” she wrote in an email. “The court did not say that Trump’s conduct did not amount to criminal behavior. Just that prosecutors are not allowed to prosecute him for it because of the special role of a president and the need to permit him to make ‘bold’ and ‘fearless’ decisions without concern for criminal consequences.”

McQuade wrote that Trump’s case over classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate won’t be affected, as it arose from conduct committed after he left the White House. She added that any impact on his New York hush money trial “seems unlikely” since the crimes were committed in a personal capacity.

“In addition, the Court’s opinion is solely focused on immunity for criminal conduct,” McQuade continued, explaining that it will not protect him from civil liability in his cases regarding defamatory statements about advice columnist E. Jean Carroll or fraudulent business practices conducted at the Trump Organization.

Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority said former presidents have absolute immunity from prosecution for official acts that fall within their “exclusive sphere of constitutional authority” and are presumptively entitled to immunity for all official acts. Unofficial, or private, actions are exempt from such immunity.

This means that special counsel Jack Smith cannot proceed with significant allegations in his indictment accusing Trump of plotting to overturn his 2020 presidential election loss, or he must at least defend their use in future proceedings before the trial judge.

The case has not been dismissed. It was instead sent back to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who must now “carefully analyze” whether other allegations involve official conduct for which the president would be immune from prosecution. The trial was supposed to have begun in March, but has been on hold since December to allow Trump to pursue his Supreme Court appeal.

However, the justices did knock out one aspect of the indictment, finding that Trump is “absolutely immune” from prosecution for alleged conduct involving discussions with the Justice Department.

The opinion also stated that Trump is “at least presumptively immune” from allegations that he tried to pressure Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6, 2021, to reject certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral vote win. But prosecutors can try to make the case that Trump’s pressure on Pence can still be part of the case against him, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

It is all but certain that the ruling means Trump will not face trial in Washington ahead of the 2024 election, as the need for further analysis is expected to tie up the case for months with legal wrangling over whether actions in the indictment were official or unofficial, the AP has reported.

Trump is facing charges in two other criminal cases, one over his alleged interference in Georgia’s 2020 election and the other over classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate after he left the White House. Trump’s lawyers have asserted presidential immunity in both cases, but a ruling on the matter has not been made in either.

The former president was convicted in May of 34 felony counts in his hush money trial in New York. After Monday’s ruling, the New York judge who presided over that trial postponed Trump’s sentencing until at least September and agreed to weigh the impact of the presidential immunity decision.

Trump was ordered in February to pay a $454 million penalty as part of a civil fraud lawsuit, for lying about his wealth for years as he built the real estate empire that vaulted him to stardom and the White House. It is still under appeal.

In May 2023, a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing Carroll in 1996 and for defaming her over the allegations, awarding her $5 million. Carroll was awarded an additional $83.3 million in January by a separate jury for Trump’s continued social media attacks against her. An appeal of the former decision was rejected in April. The latter case is still being appealed.

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Find AP Fact Checks here: https://apnews.com/APFactCheck.

By MELISSA GOLDIN
Associated Press

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