Trump can be sued for Capitol riot – appeals court
Former US President Donald Trump is not immune from being sued over his alleged role in instigating the January 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill, an appeals court in Washington DC ruled on Friday. Democrats and Capitol Police officers took legal action against Trump in the wake of the violent protest.
In a unanimous verdict, the court rejected Trump’s argument that “presidential immunity” forbids him from being held liable for the events of that day, which took place while he was still in power. In a speech to his supporters before the riot, Trump told them to “fight like hell” against his election loss, but to do so “peacefully and patriotically.”
In the ruling, Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote that the president “does not spend every minute of every day exercising official responsibilities,” and “when he acts in an unofficial, private capacity, he is subject to civil suits like any private citizen.”
A trio of lawsuits brought by Democratic lawmakers and US Capitol Police officers allege that Trump’s ‘fight like hell’ speech encouraged the mob to storm the Capitol, and should pay damages. Two officers injured during the riot are seeking a minimum of $75,000 from the former president.
Four people died during the protest, all of them Trump supporters. One woman, an Air Force veteran named Ashli Babbitt, was shot dead by a Capitol Police officer during a scuffle near the entrance to the House chamber.
The court’s decision paves the way for these lawsuits to go ahead, and could also influence the outcome of a criminal case brought against the former president by Special Counsel Jack Smith. In August, Smith charged Trump with conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights, making the same argument that Trump’s speech provoked the storming of the Capitol.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that speeches on “election integrity” are “at the heart of his official responsibilities as president,” and are therefore protected from legal consequences. Trump himself has dismissed Smith’s case as a “pathetic attempt by the Biden Crime Family and their weaponized Department of Justice to interfere with the 2024 Presidential Election.”
Trump is currently the frontrunner to take the Republican Party’s nomination for next year’s election. However, the former president faces multiple legal obstacles. Smith is overseeing two criminal cases against Trump, the second concerning his alleged mishandling of classified documents.
In addition to the three civil suits concerning the Capitol riot, Trump is being sued by New York Attorney General Letitia James for allegedly inflating the worth of his business empire, and faces charges in Georgia for allegedly trying to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state. Finally, Trump is being tried in New York for his alleged misreporting of “hush-money” payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Trump insists that all of the cases against him are part of the same overarching, Democrat-led plot to sideline Biden’s leading opponent ahead of the 2024 election.