A federal judge in Washington ruled on Friday that three civil lawsuits against Donald J. Trump related to the attack on the Capitol last January can go forward, saying the former president is not protected by normal protections. immunity or the first amendment. .
The decision by Judge Amit P. Mehta meant that the plaintiffs in the lawsuits — several members of Congress and police officers who served on Capitol Hill during the attack — will likely be able to seek information from Mr. Trump about the specific role he played. played by promoting chaos in the building on January 6, 2021.
If ultimately found liable, Mr. Trump could also be held liable for damages.
Judge Mehta’s order capped a difficult week for Mr. Trump, a week in which a New York judge ruled he must answer questions from state investigators examining his company, the Trump Organization, looking for evidence of fraud. National Archives officials also said Mr. Trump brought classified national security documents from the White House to his private club in Florida.
The lawsuits, which were all filed last year, accused Mr Trump of overlapping conspiracy charges with several others – people like his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, his son Donald Trump Jr. and extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and the Oath. Guardian Militia – to sow doubt about the 2020 election, culminating in the violent storming of the Capitol. Judge Mehta cleared the charges against the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, but dismissed them against Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump’s son.
Judge Mehta decided he would consider — and likely grant — a motion to dismiss from another defendant in one of the cases, Rep. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama. Instead of asking for the dismissal, Mr. Brooks had asked Judge Mehta to allow him to substitute the federal government in his place as a defendant in the case.
In a nearly five-hour hearing last month, Mr Trump’s lawyers argued he was immune from prosecution because he acted in his official role as president when he addressed a huge crowd in Washington at the Ellipse before the Capitol was breached. The lawyers also claimed that Mr. Trump’s inflammatory speech, in which he urged the crowd to “fight like hell” but also warned them to be peaceful and patriotic, should be protected by the First Amendment.
But in his 112-page order, Judge Mehta ruled Mr Trump’s actions that day had little to do with normal presidential duties like law enforcement or command of the armed forces. and were instead about something more personal: what the judge called “Mr. Trump’s efforts.” remain in office for a second term.
“To deny a president immunity from civil damages is no small feat,” Judge Mehta wrote. “The court understands the seriousness of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are unprecedented.
The judge also concluded that after months of creating an “air of distrust and anger” by relentlessly asserting that the election had been stolen, Mr. Trump should have known that his supporters would take his speech not just as words, but as “a call to action”. .” For this reason, the judge ruled that the address was not “protected expression”.
Mr. Trump “invited his supporters to Washington, DC, after telling them for months that corrupt and spineless politicians were to blame for stealing an election from them; told this story when thousands of them gathered on the Ellipse; and ordered them to march on the Capitol building,” Judge Mehta wrote.
Each of the lawsuits was based in part on a Reconstruction-era law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, originally intended to protect former slaves from abuse by local authorities, but became a way to challenge official actions more broadly. The lawsuits, which seek civil damages, are separate from the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation into hundreds of people who took part in the Capitol storming and a parallel congressional investigation into Ms. Trump and others to nullify election results in the weeks and months leading up to Jan. 6.
To date, Mr. Trump has not faced a subpoena from the Justice Department or the House committee investigating the Capitol riot. But Friday’s decision has created the likelihood that Mr. Trump will have to provide documents to plaintiffs or even sit down for a deposition.
“Above all, it’s a matter of liability,” said Joseph Sellers, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Representatives for Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Aftermath of Capitol Riot: Key Developments
Civil suits. A federal judge in Washington has ruled that three civil lawsuits against Donald J. Trump related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol can proceed. The ruling means plaintiffs could seek information from the former president about his role in the events.
While most of the charges in the lawsuits came from Justice Department court records or publicly available information, Judge Mehta highlighted a few allegations in his decision in particular. He wrote, for example, that Mr. Trump’s former close adviser, Roger J. Stone Jr., could have served as a link between the former president and extremist groups.
Judge Mehta pointed out that shortly after Mr. Stone posted on social media in December 2020 that he had met with Mr. Trump to “ensure” that he “continues to be our president”, he also spoke with Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys at the time. The judge also noted that Mr Stone was guarded on January 5 and 6 by members of the Oath Keepers.
Much of Judge Mehta’s ruling was devoted to analyzing Mr. Trump’s 75-minute speech at the Ellipse, a speech in which Mr. Trump and his audience seemed engaged in a sort of back-and-forth .
The speech, Judge Mehta wrote, exhibited “a quality of appeal and response to the president’s communications, of which the president would have been aware.”
“The complaints contain numerous examples of communications from the President understood by supporters as direct messages to them,” he added, “and, in the case of the Jan. 6 rally, as a call for action”.