On Thursday, government lawyers with the Department of Justice (DOJ) declared that former President Donald J. Trump can face civil lawsuits over the peaceful protests that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021.
The New York Post reports that the attorneys from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division made this statement in a filing with a D.C. appeals court, claiming that President Trump cannot use legal immunity to shield himself from the lawsuits that have already been filed against him by two Capitol Police officers and 11 Democratic members of the House of Representatives. The determination by the DOJ would also leave him susceptible to further lawsuits of a similar nature.
“Speaking to the public on matters of public concern is a traditional function of the Presidency, and the outer perimeter of the President’s Office includes a vast realm of such speech,” the lawyers said in their statement. “But that traditional function is one of public communication. It does not include incitement of imminent private violence.”
Many have tried to accuse President Trump, with no evidence, of “inciting violence” in his speech on January 6th, where he specifically called for protesters to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” as the gathered crowd protested widespread irregularities and voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
The plaintiffs accuse President Trump of being responsible for any psychological damages they feel they may have suffered on that day, even though the crowd of pro-Trump protesters who entered the Capitol were entirely peaceful. Several members of the crowd died of natural causes, while others were beaten by Capitol Police. The only person who was murdered that day was a Trump supporter, Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by Capitol Police officer Michael Leroy Byrd.
Furthermore, President Trump has argued that the contents of his speech are protected due to being made as part of his official capacity as President of the United States. The DOJ has since refused to take a stance on whether or not it considers his speech that day to be an “incitement to violence,” but nonetheless has asked the appeals court to dismiss President Trump’s argument for immunity.
“His briefs advance only a single, categorical argument: A President is always immune from any civil suits based on his ‘speech on matters of public concern’ — even if that speech also constitutes incitement to imminent private violence,” the lawyers continued. “The United States respectfully submits that the Court should reject that categorical argument.”
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama-era appointee, similarly rejected President Trump’s request for immunity last year, claiming that his speech that day was not an official act.
“The President’s actions here do not relate to his duties of faithfully executing the laws, conducting foreign affairs, commanding the armed forces, or managing the Executive Branch,” Mehta claimed in his opinion. “They entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term. These are unofficial acts, so the separation-of-powers concerns that justify the President’s broad immunity are not present here.”