Trump doesn't have absolute immunity from civil suits stemming from Jan. 6 Capitol riot, DOJ says
Then-President Donald Trump speaks Jan. 6, 2021, during a rally in Washington, D.C., protesting the Electoral college certification of now-President Joe Biden. Photo by Evan Vucci/The Associated Press.
Former President Donald Trump isn’t shielded from liability in civil lawsuits stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot if his speech before the event “encouraged imminent private violent action and was likely to produce such action,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a brief filed with a federal appeals court.
The March 2 brief, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said the DOJ was expressing no view on allegations that Trump’s speech incited the riot. But if the allegations are true, Trump is not shielded, the DOJ said.
Trump had claimed that he had absolute immunity from the civil suits over the attack on the Capitol. The suits were filed by 11 Democratic members of the House of Representatives and two Capitol police officers, according to the Washington Post.
Trump had talked about election fraud during the speech and had told supporters that they had to “fight like hell,” or “you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
The DOJ acknowledged that Trump had absolute immunity from damages stemming from his official acts. But “no part of a president’s official responsibilities includes the incitement of imminent private violence,” the DOJ said.
“In particular, a court considering a claim seeking to hold a president liable for violence allegedly connected with his speech should deny absolute immunity only if the speech, viewed objectively and in context, both encouraged imminent private violence and was likely to produce such violence,” the department asserted.
Because Trump was arguing only that he had absolute immunity, the appeals court could reject that categorical position “without attempting to comprehensively define the boundaries of the president’s immunity,” the DOJ said.
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