Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday made their final written request to a federal appeals court to grant Mr. Trump immunity to charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election, arguing the indictment should be tossed out because it arose from actions he took while in the White House.

The 41-page filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was the final step before the defense and prosecution debate the issue in front of a three-judge panel next Tuesday.

The dispute over immunity is the single most important aspect of the election interference case, touching not only on new questions of law but also on consequential issues of timing. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Federal District Court in Washington in early March, but has been put on hold until Mr. Trump’s efforts to have the charges tossed on immunity grounds are resolved.

In their filing to the appeals court, Mr. Trump’s lawyers repeated some of the arguments they had made in earlier submissions. They claimed, for instance, that a long history of presidents not being charged with crimes suggested that they all enjoyed immunity. They also said that prosecuting Mr. Trump now could unleash a chain reaction of other presidents being indicted.

“The 234-year unbroken tradition of not prosecuting presidents for official acts, despite vociferous calls to do so from across the political spectrum, provides powerful evidence of it,” D. John Sauer, a lawyer who has handled Mr. Trump’s appeals, wrote of the idea of executive immunity.

Mr. Sauer added: “The likelihood of mushrooming politically motivated prosecutions, and future cycles of recrimination, are far more menacing and crippling to the presidency than the threat of civil liability.”

Mr. Trump’s lawyers raised another, even more audacious argument: that because he had been acquitted by the Senate during his second impeachment of inciting insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, he could not be tried in a criminal court in the election interference case.

But both legal experts and some of the senators who acquitted Mr. Trump have disagreed with that position — not least because the federal charges he is facing are not analogous to those he faced during his impeachment.

The issue of Mr. Trump’s immunity claims is legally significant because the question of whether former presidents can be criminally liable for things they did in office has not been tested in court. Mr. Trump is the first former president to have been charged with crimes.

But the appeal of the immunity issue has revolved around more than the question of whether Mr. Trump should eventually stand trial on the election charges. It has also touched on the separate, but equally critical, question of when the trial should occur.

Prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, have been trying for weeks to keep the trial on schedule, arguing that the public has an enormous interest in a speedy prosecution of Mr. Trump, the Republican Party’s leading candidate for the presidency.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers, pulling in the opposite direction, have used every lever at their disposal to slow the case down, hoping to delay a trial until after the 2024 election is decided. If that happened and Mr. Trump won, he would have the power to simply order the charges against him dropped.

The immunity challenge is being considered by Judge Karen L. Henderson, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and by Judges Florence Y. Pan and J. Michelle Childs, who were put on the bench by President Biden.

On Tuesday, before Mr. Trump’s court papers were filed, the judges informed both sides in the case that they should be prepared at the hearing next week to discuss issues raised in several friend-of-the-court briefs that have been submitted.

One of the briefs argued that the issue of immunity should never have been subject to an immediate appeal, but rather should have been raised only if Mr. Trump were convicted. Another maintained that Mr. Smith had been improperly appointed to the role of special counsel and lacked the “authority to conduct the underlying prosecution.”

Last month, fearing that a prolonged appeal could delay the case from going in front of a jury, Mr. Smith made an unusual request to the Supreme Court: He asked the justices to step in front of the appeals court and consider the case first.

Although the justices rejected his petition, they are likely to get the case again after the appeals court makes its decision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *