(Bloomberg) — A Pennsylvania state court judge ruled that presidential immunity is broad enough to protect Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged, even if he didn’t really believe the conspiracy.
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Judge Michael Erdos in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on Monday granted Trump immunity on two claims made in a 2021 lawsuit by voting-machine supervisor James Savage.
Savage claimed Trump damaged his reputation by falsely claiming he tampered with the 2020 election result, which resulted in death threats and two heart attacks. Savage’s third defamation claim — tied to written remarks Trump made after leaving office — isn’t protected by immunity, the judge said, and survived Trump’s motion to dismiss the case.
The decision was issued the same day Trump said on his social media site Truth Social that he “assumes” he’ll be indicted in the coming days over his effort to overturn the election and the resulting attack on the Capitol by his supporters. But the partial win was welcomed by his legal adviser.
“The court made it clear that it is well within the president’s discretion to address the integrity of our election without fear of liability,” Alina Habba, legal spokeswoman for Trump, said in a statement. “We expect that the rest of Mr. Savage’s claims will similarly be disposed of as they are without merit.”
On their face, Trump’s remarks about the election that he made while he was in office are protected by presidential immunity because they “dealt with the cornerstone of our democracy” and were in-line with his responsibilities at the time, the judge wrote.
Erdos said Trump’s statements while in office were not outside the “outer perimeter of his official responsibility,” even if the comments were meant to benefit him personally by protecting his status as “leader of the free world.” The immunity is so broad that it stands even if Trump’s motivation behind making the statements “could have been to overturn the election results” and “even if he actually believed that he had fairly lost,” the judge said.
“Other legal proceedings may examine the propriety of his statements and actions while he was the President and whether, as the plaintiffs in this and other cases contend, it was this conduct which served as the actual threat to our democracy,” Erdos wrote in his 16-page ruling. “But this case is not the proper place to do so.”
At issue were two allegedly defamatory statements made by Trump in November 2020 — one during a speech in Gettysburg and another in a post on social media. A third statement by Trump about the Pennsylvania vote was made in a public letter to House lawmakers probing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, after he left office.
Savage’s lawyer didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
(Updates with Trump legal adviser in fifth paragraph)
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