A federal judge in Washington on Monday wrestled with whether ex-President Donald Trump is immune from civil lawsuits filed over last year’s Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta of the District of Columbia, who is simultaneously presiding over criminal prosecutions stemming from the Jan. 6 violence, pressed an attorney for the former president as well as those representing the lawmakers and U.S. Capitol Police officers suing Trump about comments the ex-president made at a rally ahead of the violence, and if they fell under the scope of his official duties.
A handful of civil lawsuits have been filed over the Jan. 6 riots, targeting Trump and others who spoke at the Jan. 6 events. Mehta on Monday heard arguments for five hours over several motions made in the cases, including multiple motions to dismiss.
Jesse Binnall, Trump’s attorney, failed to come up with an example of an act a president could commit while in office that would result in him having to face a civil lawsuit. He told the judge to not consider what Trump said at the rally, and instead view a president making public remarks as part of his official duties.
Mehta seemed skeptical of that sweeping view of immunity, He raised Trump’s call to the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which the then-president asked the official to “find” more votes in the state in his favor, and asked Binnall how that would fall under the scope of Trump’s duties as president as elections are run by states.
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Joseph Sellers, a partner with Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll who is representing several Democratic members of Congress in one of the lawsuits, told Mehta that Trump’s comments on Jan. 6 should be considered campaign activity and not part of his official duties.
The judge asked how Trump’s remarks about the Electoral College certification vote wouldn’t fall under a president’s responsibilities. Sellers replied that Trump had “no legitimate role” in that process.
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