“Deadly Force” Controversy Destroys Trump’s Immunity Argument

Photograph Source: Matt Johnson – CC BY 2.0

All politicians contradict themselves, but few so shamelessly as Donald Trump. Recently, Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer, lobbied the Supreme Court for “presidential immunity” in Trump’s criminal trial concerning his involvement in the Capitol insurrection. Sauer claimed in his arguments that presidents enjoy immunity for actions even as drastic as assassinating political opponents. This week, Americans got a chance to put this logic to the test, and the result was unsurprising: Trump’s defense is nonsense.

In a new court filing last Tuesday, it was revealed that the FBI authorized the use of “deadly force” if necessary in its 2023 raid of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion. Instead of sticking to his story that U.S. presidents deserve “total immunity” and acknowledging that Joe Biden was well within his rights to order this type of operation, Trump threw a tantrum. 

In a move that made Trump the new poster child of “having your cake and eating it, too,” the former President lashed out at Biden, labeling him “MENTALLY UNFIT TO HOLD OFFICE” and “A SERIOUS THREAT TO DEMOCRACY.” At this point, the pot and the kettle had no choice but to settle their dispute and watch in awe.

To be clear, President Biden didn’t actually try to assassinate Trump. The “deadly force” clause is standard procedure for any FBI raid and was misconstrued by Trump, who wasn’t even home during the raid. In fact, the exact same language was used in a similar raid of Biden’s own Delaware home last year. 

Regardless, long gone are Trump’s claims that even presidents who “cross the line” need “total immunity… to properly function.” I assume Trump was including conducting warrants for high-profile criminal cases when he wrote those statements. Now, though, it’s just the opposite. Presidents deserve the highest level of scrutiny, and no small misstep should go unpunished… until, of course, Trump sets foot inside one of the four courtrooms he currently calls home. 

In place of those outdated claims are outcries from Trump’s supporters on this new presidential overreach, criticizing the FBI as a weaponized arm of the mighty Joseph R. Biden, hellbent on eliminating America’s hero. The one person in Trump’s camp who isn’t criticizing Biden is his own lawyer, who argued on Trump’s behalf in favor of this exact scenario’s legality just weeks ago. Here’s his exchange with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: “If the president decides that his rival is a corrupt person, and he orders the military or orders someone to assassinate him, is that within his official acts for which he can get immunity?” 

Sauer: “It would depend on the hypothetical. We can see that could well be an official act.”

Targeting “a corrupt person” for assassination has no better hypothetical than Joe Biden targeting Donald Trump. When faced with this scenario, however, every American can see that giving Biden the authority to kill Trump would be wildly outlandish and turn the presidency into a dictatorship.

And yet, this is the meat and potatoes of Trump’s plea for “immunity” on January 6th, that a president, if they are not impeached, can get away with murder. Even Trump’s diehard supporters know that this claim deserves a “Pants on Fire” fact-check rating. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be so outraged at what they claim is President Biden trying to… get away with murder.

When President Richard Nixon resigned during the infamous Watergate Scandal, Gerald Ford felt the need to pardon his former boss even though he was never impeached. That’s because, at that time, it was obvious that presidents, especially ex-Presidents, could not float above the law. Donald Trump, on the other hand, seems to believe that he can get away with setting a violent mob on elected members of Congress or even “standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shooting somebody.”

Trump’s defense of his inexcusable actions is pure nonsense, so let’s not treat him like untouchable royalty. While the alternatives to Trump aren’t great, I’m sure America’s founders would agree that it’s better to have a bad president than a king any day of the week.

Sam Underhill is the executive director of the ActivateGenZ Project, a Young Voices contributor, and a student at the University of Alabama.