“The president’s January 6 rally speech can reasonably be seen as a call for collective action,” Mehta said.
Democratic House members and police who defended the US Capitol on January 6 sued Trump, saying he incited his supporters to attack. On Friday, Mehta wrote that the prosecution could move to the evidence-gathering phase and a trial — a major loss in court for Trump.
“To deny a president immunity from civil harm is no small feat. The court fully understands the seriousness of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are unprecedented,” Mehta wrote.
“After all, the president’s actions here are unrelated to his duties to faithfully execute the laws, conduct foreign affairs, command the armed forces, or manage the executive branch,” Mehta added. “They are entirely about his efforts to stay in office for a second term. These are unofficial acts, so the separation of powers concerns that justify the president’s broad immunity are not present here.”
The ruling came as part of a trio of lawsuits filed after the Jan. 6 capitol breach aimed at holding the former president and his allies accountable for the riot.
Lawmakers allege they were threatened by Trump and others as part of a plot to shut down the session of Congress that would certify the 2020 presidential election on January 6, 2021, according to the complaints. They argue that Trump should take responsibility for leading the assaults.
Trump’s legal team is likely to appeal the decision, which was issued in DC Magistrates Court. Representatives for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mehta’s decision on what he calls a “one-of-a-kind case” creates a rare case where the former president could face concrete consequences for the insurgency.
But Mehta’s opinion, essentially melting presidential and First Amendment protections due to the context of Trump’s speech and specific words and actions that day, could have other implications in court.
At this time, there is no public indication that the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Jan. 6, which includes multiple rounds of conspiracy charges and a sedition case, has reached Trump. And after Republican lawmakers blocked Trump’s impeachment conviction, the GOP largely fell back behind the former president. The two House Republicans who currently serve on the committee investigating the insurgency have faced calls to oust them from the party, and Trump could very well be the Republicans’ 2024 nominee for the White House.
The ruling on Friday, however, sets the stage for civil trials months or years from now where Trump is at the defense table.
Role of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers
Mehta wrote that it is plausible that the trial could prove Trump made a deal with far-right groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, who are criminally charged with conspiracy and also named in the lawsuit.
The judge noted how Trump told the Proud Boys to “step back and get ready” during a pre-election debate, and that he was likely aware of the oath keepers attending his rallies and the predicted violence due to his electoral defeat.
“It is reasonable to infer that the president knew they were militias and that they were prepared to participate in the violence for him,” the judge said. “The president would therefore presumably have known that a call for violence would be made by militias and other supporters.”
Cases will continue against the Oath Keepers organization and against Enrique Tarrio, the recently incarcerated leader of the Proud Boys. They sought to have the case dismissed, but the judge concluded that the allegations – of a conspiracy between Trump and extremist groups and leaders – were plausible enough to allow the litigation to move forward.
Partial victory for other Trump allies
Some of his co-accused allies succeeded in having the civil lawsuits against them dismissed.
This includes his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his former attorney Rudy Giuliani, who were named defendants in some of the cases but successfully argued that the charges should be dismissed.
The judge said he would also eventually dismiss the case against Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, but he wasn’t ready to do so on Friday for technical reasons related to Brooks’ defense strategy. .
They all denied wrongdoing related to Jan. 6.
Judge: Giuliani conspired to peddle misinformation
Regarding Giuliani, the judge said “there is no doubt” that he “was involved in a conspiracy” to peddle disinformation about the 2020 election – but that does not violate the laws at issue in this lawsuit.
Democrats and the police who filed the lawsuits “fail” to establish that Giuliani directly conspired to prevent Congress from certifying the Jan. 6 election through force or intimidation, Mehta said.
Even though Giuliani spoke at the ‘Save America’ rally before the riot and told the crowd, “Let’s have a trial by combat,” the judge ruled those comments weren’t strong enough to establish a conspiracy.
“Critically, Giuliani uttered no words that sounded like a call to action. The ‘trial by combat’ was not accompanied by an instruction to do anything,” Mehta wrote, l calling it “constitutionally protected speech,” and pointing out that Giuliani didn’t know Trump would order his supporters to march on Capitol Hill.
The judge said the allegations against Trump Jr. were even weaker and should therefore be dismissed.
“The allegations against Trump Jr. are insufficient to make him a co-conspirator in a scheme to prevent Congress from performing its duties,” Mehta wrote.
This situation was very different from that of Trump – who not only talked about the crowds marching to the Capitol and the fighting, but also failed to tell his rioting supporters to stand down as the violence unfolded. . Instead, Trump slammed then-Vice President Mike Pence, who was chairing Electoral College certification, on Twitter 12 minutes after the attack began.
“When the president told the crowd at the end of his address, ‘We are fighting. We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell you’ll have no more country,” moments before asking them to march to the Capitol, the president’s speech presumably crossed the line into unprotected territory,” Mehta wrote.
This story has been updated with additional details.