Trump Can Be Sued Over January 6 Capitol Attack, US Appeals Court Rules

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A US appeals court on Friday ruled that Donald Trump must face civil lawsuits over his role in the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol by his supporters, rejecting the former president’s claim that he is immune.

A panel of the US court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit found that Trump was acting “in his personal capacity as a presidential candidate” when he urged his supporters to march to the Capitol. US presidents are immune from civil lawsuits only for official actions. Part of the lawsuit was filed under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction-era law, which makes it illegal to prevent an officer of the United States from performing their duties through threats or intimidation.

“When a first-term President opts to seek a second term, his campaign to win re-election is not an official presidential act,” Sri Srinivasan, the chief judge of the US court of appeals for the DC circuit wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel. “While Presidents are often exercising official responsibilities when they speak on matters of public concern, that is not always the case.”

Srinivasan, an appointee of Barack Obama, was joined by Gregory Katsas, a Trump appointee, and Judith Rogers, an appointee of Bill Clinton.

While the panel ruled Trump could be sued, it made it clear it was not precluding him from arguing that he was acting in his official capacity as a defense as the lawsuit proceeds.

“When these cases move forward in the district court, he must be afforded the opportunity to develop his own facts on the immunity question if he desires to show that he took the actions alleged in the complaints in his official capacity as President rather than in his unofficial capacity as a candidate,” the opinion said.

The ruling clears the way for Trump to face lawsuits from police officers and US lawmakers seeking to hold him responsible for the violence by his supporters during the riot, which was an attempt to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

“More than two years later, it is unnerving to hear the same fabrications and dangerous rhetoric that put my life as well as the lives of my fellow officers in danger on January 6, 2021,” said James Blassingame, a Capitol police officer who is a plaintiff in the case, James Blassingame v Donald Trump. “I couldn’t be more committed to pursuing accountability on this matter. I hope our case will assist with helping put our democracy back on the right track; making it crystal clear that no person, regardless of title or position of stature, is above the rule of law.”

Trump is currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Joe Biden in the 2024 election.

The civil suits will only add to the significant legal problems the former president faces. In total, Trump already faces 91 felony charges.

Both the justice department and the Fulton county district attorney have criminally charged Trump for trying to overturn the 2020 election. The justice department is also prosecuting him for his handling of classified documents after leaving office. The Manhattan district attorney also has a pending case against Trump over hush-money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Trump has also spent much of the last month defending his business in a civil case in New York on charges it committed fraud by inflating the value for obtain more favorable terms on loans and insurance.

Source: The Guardian