WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Donald Trump may be sued by injured Capitol police officers and Democratic lawmakers January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol Uprising, the Justice Department said Thursday in a federal court case testing Trump’s legal vulnerability and the limits of executive power.
The department wrote that while a president has broad legal latitude to communicate to the public about matters of concern, “no part of a president’s official responsibilities includes inciting threatened private violence. By definition, such conduct falls well outside the constitutional and legal duties of the President.”
The brief was filed by attorneys with the Department of Justice’s Civil Division and does not affect a separate criminal investigation by a department’s special counsel into whether Trump faces criminal charges in front of the Capitol for efforts to reverse Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election can riot. In fact, the attorneys note that they take no position regarding possible criminal liability for Trump or anyone else.
The Justice Department wrote that it also had no opinion on a lower court judge’s conclusion that those who have sued Trump made “plausible” claims that his speech caused the riot. Still, the department said an appeals court should dismiss Trump’s claim that he is immune from the lawsuits.
The Justice Department warned that “the court must be careful not to make rules that unduly interfere with the president’s legitimate communications” or charge a president with baseless claims.
“In carrying out their traditional communicative functions, presidents routinely address controversial issues that are the subject of passionate feelings. Presidents can sometimes use strong rhetoric. And some who hear this rhetoric may overreact or even respond with violence,” the department wrote.
Trump is appealing a decision by a federal judge in Washington last year dismissed efforts by the former president to drop the civil conspiracy charges filed by lawmakers and two Capitol Police officers. US District Judge Amit Mehta ruled that Trump’s words during a rally ahead of the violent storming of the US Capitol were likely “words of incitement not protected by the First Amendment.”
The lawsuits, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., Officials James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby and later supported by other House Democrats, argue that Trump and others made “false and inflammatory allegations of fraud and theft and as direct response” following the defendant’s explicit calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the US Capitol.”
The lawsuits allege a federal civil rights law enacted to counter the Ku Klux Klan’s intimidation of officials. They detail how Trump and others disseminated unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, both before and after the 2020 presidential election was called, and accuse them of helping anger thousands of rioters before storming the Capitol.
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