January 11, 2022

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump and his associates argued Monday that incendiary statements by Trump and others last Jan. 6 prior to the Capitol riot were protected speech and in line with their official duties.

In response to civil suits running parallel to Congress' own Jan. 6 inquiry, Trump's lawyers claimed he was acting within his official rights and had no intention to spark violence when he called on thousands of supporters to “march to the Capitol” and “fight like hell” to disrupt the Senate's certification of the 2020 election results.

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The five-hour hearing in Washington before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta concerned Trump's attempts to have the civil suits dismissed. Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California brought one of the suits against Trump and a host of others, including Donald Trump Jr., Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks and right-wing group the Oath Keepers, charging responsibility for the violent breach of the Capitol building by Trump supporters.

The other lawsuits, brought by Democratic representatives and two Capitol Police officers, claim that statements by Trump and Brooks on and before Jan. 6 essentially qualify as part of a political campaign, and are therefore fair game for litigation. Plaintiffs are seeking damages for the physical and emotional injuries they sustained during the insurrection.

“What he spoke about was a campaign issue, seeking to secure an election,” said Joseph Sellers, one of the attorney's representing Swalwell's suit. “This was a purely private act.”

Sellers said Trump's statements were an overt and unambiguous call for political violence.

“It's hard to conceive of a scenario other than the president traveling down to the Capitol himself and busting through the doors ... but of course he did that through 3rd-party agents, through the crowd,” he said.

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