How a Jan. 6 case at the Supreme Court could affect Trump’s election interference case

Eyes are on Manhattan this week as jury selection in Donald Trump’s first criminal trial gets underway. But if you’re also interested in the fate of Trump’s federal election interference case in Washington, D.C., then you’ll want to follow an appeal being argued at the Supreme Court on Tuesday as well.

That’s the case of alleged Jan. 6 rioter Joseph Fischer. He was charged with, among other things, obstructing an official proceeding. It’s a charge that’s been widely used against people who disrupted the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win. It’s also among the charges Trump himself faces in the federal election interference case, so how the justices interpret it in Fischer’s case could affect Trump’s prosecution, too.

Fischer says the government went too far in charging him under the federal obstruction law that, he argues, is meant for evidence tampering. But even though both he and the former president are charged under that same statute, a Supreme Court win for Fischer wouldn’t necessarily knock out Trump’s obstruction charges.

At least special counsel Jack Smith doesn’t think so. In his high court brief ahead of the April 25 immunity hearing in Donald Trump v. United States, Smith argues that Trump’s obstruction charges would survive even Fischer’s interpretation. On that point, the special counsel cited the alleged Trump-backed scheme to use fraudulent slates of electors at the joint session of Congress. So even where their charges overlap, Trump is in a different legal position from rioters.

Of course, we’ll first see if Fischer wins his Supreme Court case, and then we’ll look at the ruling’s rationale to see how it applies to Trump’s case. It may have limited impact and, even then, only on some of Trump’s charges. That’s because the former president faces four counts in his Washington indictment, two of which are obstruction-related.

The justices will likely rule by late June in Fischer’s case, the same unofficial deadline for a ruling in Trump’s immunity appeal. So if Trump’s Washington case actually goes to trial — a questionable prospect due to the high court’s decision to take up his immunity bid in the first place — then it can be tried with the justices’ impending interpretation of the obstruction law in mind. Both Trump and Fischer have pleaded not guilty.

Regardless of the implications of Fischer’s appeal for Trump, it will be significant for other Jan. 6 rioter-type cases generally. It could bolster or upend scores of such prosecutions.

Yet, when it comes to Trump’s federal election interference case, the forthcoming Fischer ruling is yet another potential headache for Smith in his attempt to try the presumptive GOP nominee before the November presidential election. A win for Trump would put him back in the same office that the whole alleged election interference scheme was intended to keep him in. And the office would give him the power to quash the very case that seeks to hold him accountable for that effort.

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