Civil lawsuits against Trump seek damages for January 6 attack

WASHINGTON – Members of Congress, police and government watchdogs argued in federal court Monday that Donald J. Trump was responsible for significant financial damage for his role in inspiring the January 6 attack against Congress, by initiating a series of civil lawsuits against the former president amid growing frustration that he faced no punishment for the riot.

For nearly five hours in U.S. District Court for Washington, lawyers made their case against Mr. Trump, saying he deserved to be held accountable for setting a violent crowd on fire, despite protections generally broad in matters of immunity for the speech and actions of a president. during his tenure.

“Sir. Trump sent the crowd he gathered,” said Joseph Sellers, counsel for a group of House Democrats including Representatives Barbara Lee of California, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey and Hank Johnson. from Georgia. “After seeing that they were breaking into the Capitol, instead of trying to calm them down, he retweeted his inflammatory remarks from the rally before.”

In a hearing to see whether the lawsuits can go ahead, Judge Amit P. Mehta focused on why Mr. Trump failed to act faster to quash the crowd. He asked Mr Trump’s lawyers if the president’s slowness in response was proof that he was okay with the siege after he told the crowd to ‘fight like hell’ and march to the Capitol.

“You have a period of almost two hours during which the president does not use Twitter or any other type of communication and says, ‘Stop. Get out of the Capitol, ”the judge said, adding,“ If my words were misinterpreted and led to violence, wouldn’t a reasonable person whose words were misinterpreted come out and say, ‘Wait a minute. Stop’?”

Mr Trump’s attorney, Jesse R. Binnall, argued the lawsuits should be dismissed because his crowd-igniting remarks were protected by presidential immunity and his First Amendment right to free speech. He claimed that Mr. Trump told the crowd to march “peacefully and patriotically” on Capitol Hill.

“These cases should be closed because they should never have been brought in the first place,” said Mr Binnall. “The complaints themselves lack any legal basis. Instead, they are full of propaganda intended to achieve a political rather than a legal objective. “

Judge Mehta also filed a lawsuit against the organizers of the murderous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., Noting that the allegations against white nationalist Richard Spencer and other defendants included incitement to violence and then his inability to stop it. Jurors in the case have held organizers liable under state law for injuries inflicted on counter-protesters, awarding more than $ 25 million in damages.

But Judge Mehta wrestled openly on Monday with the constitutional questions of trying to hold a president accountable in civil courts. He noted that presidents could only be criminally prosecuted after leaving office, but said the Supreme Court had granted “even broader” immunity protections from civil prosecution.

“It is not an easy matter,” said the judge. “I have struggled with a lot of these issues because they raise so many important constitutional questions. “

The House Democrats’ trial accuses Mr. Trump, his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and two militia groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, of plotting to incite violence on January 6. (Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, had been a plaintiff in the lawsuit but withdrew after being appointed chairman of the House committee investigating the attack.)

A second complaint has been filed by Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, against Mr. Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, accusing them of inciting violence a crowd.

A third was filed by two Capitol Hill police officers who argued Mr. Trump was responsible for the physical and emotional injuries they suffered as a result of the day’s events.

Mr Brooks, who wore a bulletproof vest on stage at a rally leading up to the violence as he told the crowd to “start taking names and kicking your ass”, pictured at the Monday’s hearing after the Justice Department refused to do so. He argued that his own efforts to undermine the 2020 election were no different from the tactics used by Democrats, who opposed previous presidential certifications.

“It was not to make people attack the Capitol,” he said of his speech.

The lawsuits are an effort to subject Mr. Trump to some sort of liability a year after the attack.

By a vote of 43 to 57 last year, the Senate acquitted Mr. Trump of incitement to insurgency, falling short of the two-thirds needed to convict him.

After voting to acquit him, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, appeared to take legal action against Mr. Trump, saying he was “practically and morally responsible” for the violence and could still be “responsible for anything. which he did while in prison. function as an ordinary citizen.

To date, Mr. Trump has not been the subject of any subpoena from the Justice Department or the House committee investigating the Capitol Riot.

Alan Rozenshtein, a former Justice Department official who teaches at the University of Minnesota Law School, said he disagreed with Mr. Trump’s attorney’s claim according to which there was virtually no situation in which a president could be sued. But he also said lawyers for the plaintiffs may not have convincingly argued that presidential immunity does not apply in this particular case.

“This is a difficult case – this is my result,” Rozenshtein said.

The arguments came after four police officers injured in the attack filed three separate federal lawsuits last week to hold Mr. Trump accountable for the violence.

The latest, filed by Capitol Police Officer Briana Kirkland, says she left the Capitol on January 6 “covered in chemical spray, in blood, with a traumatic brain injury that would cost her a year of her personal life. and occupational, and physical and personal injuries that will be with it indefinitely.

Further lawsuits were filed by Officer Marcus Moore, a 10-year Capitol Police veteran who invokes the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, and two Washington policemen, Bobby Tabron and DeDivine K. Carter, who have been attacked outside the Capitol in an area officers now call the “Tunnel of Death.”

The lawsuits bring to at least seven the number of people filed against Mr. Trump by people who were on Capitol Hill during the attack.

Katie benner contributed reports.

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