February 18, 2022
Civil lawsuits seeking to hold Donald Trump accountable for the January 6, 2021, insurrection can move forward in court, a federal judge said Friday in a ruling outlining how the former President could conceivably be responsible for inciting the attack on the US Capitol.
Trump’s statements to his supporters before the riot “is the essence of civil conspiracy,” Judge Amit Mehta wrote in a 112-page opinion, because Trump spoke about himself and rallygoers working “towards a common goal” of fighting and walking down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“The President’s January 6 Rally Speech can reasonably be viewed as a call for collective action,” Mehta said.
Democratic members of the House and police officers who defended the US Capitol on January 6 sued Trump last year, claiming he prompted his supporters to attack. Friday, Mehta wrote that the three lawsuits could move to the evidence-gathering phase and toward a trial — a major loss in court for Trump.
“To deny a President immunity from civil damages is no small step. The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent,” Mehta wrote.
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Two of the lawsuits were brought by Democratic House members, while a third was filed by Capitol Police officers.
The lawmakers allege that they were threatened by Trump and others as part of a conspiracy to stop the congressional session that would certify the 2020 presidential election on January 6, 2021, according to the complaints. They argue that Trump should bear responsibility for directing the assaults.
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Lawyers for the Democratic lawmakers and police were elated with the ruling Friday, though they likely face a long road of additional court tangles ahead.
“Today is a major victory for the rule of law, and demonstrates just how important the courts are for ensuring accountability,” said Joseph Sellers, who represents a group of Democratic members of Congress that was first to allege a civil conspiracy against Trump in court.
The NAACP, working alongside Sellers, also applauded the ruling, and the group’s president Derrick Johnson called for accountability for Trump and the right-wing groups.