Donald Trump may be sued for his role in the January 6 Capitol riot
WASHINGTON – The said the Justice Department Thursday former President Donald Trump does not deserve absolute immunity from three civil lawsuits accusing him of inciting the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.
“No part of a president’s official responsibility includes inciting imminent private violence,” the department’s lawyers told an appeals court. “By definition, such conduct falls clearly outside the constitutional and statutory duties of the president.”
A panel of three judges DC Circuit Court of Appeals will decide whether to allow the trials to continue. The panel heard oral arguments on whether to dismiss the cases in December, but asked the Justice Department to rule.
Chief Justice Sri Srinivasan and Judges George Katsas and Judith Rogers hears the case. Srinivasan was appointed to the appeals court by Barack Obama, Katsas by Trump and Rogers by Bill Clinton.
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Here’s what we know about the cases:
What are the lawsuits about?
The three lawsuits each accuse Trump of inciting the riot and seek to hold him accountable for it. Nearly 1,000 people have been charged in the attack, and a mob rampaged through the Capitol, temporarily preventing Congress from counting electoral college votes. A rioter was shot dead outside the chamber of the house by a police officer. A police officer who was sprayed with chemicals during the attack died the next day of a stroke.
Ten House Democrats filed a lawsuit accusing Trump of violating the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which sought to protect lawmakers from threats or intimidation to carry out their duties. The lawsuit, filed in February 2021, originally named Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani; The Oath Keepers and Proud boysright-wing extremist groups with dozens of members criminally charged in the attack.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., was originally the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, but dropped out when he became head of the House committee investigating the attack. The remaining lawsuits are current or former reps. Bonnie Coleman Watson, DN.J.; Karen Bass, D-Calif.; Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; Jerrold Nadler, DN.Y.; Henry Johnson, D-Ga.; Stephen Cohen, D-Tenn.; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; Veronica Escobar, D-Texas; and Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., filed a lawsuit in March 2021 accusing Trump of knowing about the plot to attack the Capitol and doing nothing to stop it. His lawsuit also targeted Giuliani; the former president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.; and rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who each spoke at a Trump rally near the White House before the attack.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta recused himself Trump Jr., Giuliani and Brooks from the cases by deciding their speeches at the convention and other actions did not make them part of an alleged conspiracy.
Two Capitol Police officers, James Blassinggame and Sidney Hemby, filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump’s behavior fueled the riot by encouraging his supporters to try to overturn the election results.
“I am pleased that the DOJ made crystal clear that inciting a violent attack on the United States is far beyond the immunity granted to any president,” Swalwell said in a statement.
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What is Trump arguing for?
Trump’s lawyers urged the appeals court to dismiss the cases by arguing that controversial speeches like the one he gave on January 6, 2021, are part of a president’s job.
“The underlying question here is simple: is a president immune from civil liability when he or she delivers a speech on a matter of public concern?” Trump’s lawyers said. “The answer is undoubtedly yes.”
Trump’s lawyers have argued that he is immune from legal action for anything he said at the meeting. They also argued that he could not be part of any conspiracy to incite the violence because he called on attendees to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” at the Capitol.
But in allowing the cases to proceed, Mehta, who also oversees criminal cases from the Capitol attack, noted that Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell” before his supporters battled police and forced their way into the building.
“At the end of his remarks, he told the participants, ‘we’re fighting, we’re fighting like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country anymore,'” Mehta said.
Trump’s presidential campaign issued a statement Thursday saying he repeatedly called for peace, patriotism and respect for law enforcement during the speech. The campaign argued that federal courts should dismiss what it called frivolous lawsuits.
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What did the Department of Justice say?
The Ministry of Justice’s lawyers took no position on the three lawsuits. And they said presidents are typically shielded from civil lawsuits because of their broad official duties and the difficulty of separating them from personal duties.
But the department’s lawyers said no president should be able to incite violence, despite Trump’s claim of absolute immunity from all lawsuits.
Government lawyers urged appeals court judges to set narrow rules for the trials to proceed, to avoid burdening a president with lawsuits that would be burdensome and intrusive, even if not without merit.
“It is not a rule of absolute immunity for the president, regardless of the nature of his actions,” the lawyers said.
“The district court also correctly rejected President Trump’s categorical assertion that ‘whenever and wherever a president speaks on a matter of public concern, he is immune from civil suit,'” the department’s lawyers said.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump may be sued in Jan. 6 Capitol riots, DOJ tells appeals court