Biden issues a warning about the power of the presidency – and Trump – after Supreme Court’s immunity ruling

By Betsy Klein, Michael Williams, Jack Forrest and MJ Lee, CNN

Washington CNN —President Joe Biden on Monday condemned the Supreme Court’s decision which ruled that presidents have an absolute immunity from prosecution for core official acts, and issued a stern warning over a possible second term for former President Donald Trump.

“There are no kings in America. Each, each of us is equal before the law. No one, no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States,” Biden said in a speech from the White House.

“(With) today’s Supreme Court decision on presidential immunity, that fundamentally changed. For all practical purposes, there are virtually no limits on what the president can do. It’s a fundamentally new principle and it’s a dangerous precedent because the power of the office will no longer be constrained by the law even including the supreme court of the United States.”

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, ruled that Trump may claim immunity from criminal prosecution for some of the actions he took as president before leaving office, likely delaying his federal election subversion trial related to his actions on January 6 even further.

The ruling rejects a decision from a federal appeals court in February that found the former president enjoyed no immunity for alleged crimes he committed during his presidency to reverse the 2020 election results.

Biden repeatedly warned that the limits of the president’s power now solely rest with the holder of the office and the choices that person makes. He said Trump would be a danger in that role.

The notably political speech comes at a critical moment for Biden’s campaign as he tries to beat back persistent concerns about his age exacerbated by his performance in last week’s presidential debate. His unsteady performance wreaked anxiety among some of his top donors and raised uncomfortable questions for Democrats about whether he should remain on their ticket, much less serve another four years in the White House.

During Monday’s speech, Biden appeared alert, reading energetically from a teleprompter in the Cross Hall of the White House. But he did not take questions, immediately walking away after his five-minute, scripted statement.

On Monday, Biden referenced the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol and called it “one of the darkest days in the history of America.” He said the court’s decision has made it unlikely that Trump will face trial for his criminal charges related to that riot before the election.

The court’s decision technically allows special counsel Jack Smith to move forward with his election subversion case against Trump, but left many technical questions unresolved – making it increasingly unlikely that a trial can get underway before the November election. Smith’s case now returns to lower courts, which must review the specific steps Trump took to overturn the results of the 2020 election and whether those actions were official, and therefore receive immunity, or private, and do not.

The majority said that Trump’s conversations with the Justice Department – his efforts to try to get officials on board with his attempt to overturn the election – were covered with absolute immunity. For other official actions and more routine powers held by the president, the court said there is at least some immunity and it largely deferred to lower courts to sort that out. That’s a process that could take weeks or even months.

Perhaps even more important, the majority made clear that official acts cannot be considered at all as evidence in a potential trial, which could make it much harder for Smith to prevail. Chief Justice John Roberts also wrote that the lower courts may not consider a former president’s motive, which may allow Trump’s attorneys to argue that he wasn’t attempting to overturn an election in his favor at all.

“I know I will respect the limits of the presidential powers I’ve had for three-and-a-half years, but any president – including Donald Trump – will now be free to ignore the law,” Biden said.

Biden, who has made protecting democracy a central tenet of his campaign, described the decision as a broader pattern from the Supreme Court in undermining “a wide range of long-established legal principles,” pointing to other decisions on voting rights and civil rights as he implicitly laid out the stakes for the presidential election.

He added that voters now hold the ultimate say over holding Trump accountable.

“The American people must decide if they want to entrust … the presidency to Donald Trump, now knowing that he’ll be even more emboldened to do whatever he pleases whenever he wants to do it.”

He added, “I concur with Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor’s dissent today. Here’s what she said – she said, ‘In every use of official power, the president is now a king above the law. With fear for our democracy, I dissent,’ end of quote. So should the American people dissent. I dissent.”

The Supreme Court’s decision had an instant effect – Trump’s legal team filed a letter Monday seeking to challenge the former president’s conviction in his New York criminal hush money trial based on the high court ruling on presidential immunity, a source told CNN.

Trump’s lawyer filed a letter with Judge Juan Merchan seeking permission to file a motion to challenge the verdict, the source said. If the judge allows Trump to file the motion it could delay Trump’s sentencing – set for next week – to allow the parties to brief the issue. The Manhattan district attorney’s office did not file its sentencing submission Monday as expected, according to a source.

CNN’s John Fritze and Kara Scannell contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional developments on Monday.

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