Judge rejects Trump bid to quash conspiracy lawsuits adding it is ‘plausible’ he ‘sparked’ Capitol riot

Federal judge rejects ex-president’s ‘immunity’ claims to shield him from multiple lawsuits

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 18 February 2022 22:32 GMT
Related video: Trump makes election promise to pardon January 6 rioters
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Donald Trump does not have absolute immunity from multiple civil lawsuits seeking to hold him accountable for the attacks on the US Capitol, according to a federal judge’s ruling on 18 February.

In his 112-page opinion, US District Judge Amit Mehta said that the president’s rally speech on 6 January, 2021 that preceded the assault “can reasonably be viewed as a collective action.”

His opinion determined that arguments in several lawsuits are “plausible” in their allegations that the former president’s “words at the rally sparked what followed”.

The ruling determined that the actions of the former president – who has argued that presidential immunity can shield him from such litigation – do not constitute official acts while in office, and “do not relate to his duties of faithfully executing the laws, conducting foreign affairs, commanding the armed forces, or managing the Executive Branch.”

“They entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term,” he wrote in his decision responding to Mr Trump’s motion to dismiss the challenges. “These are unofficial acts, so the separation-of-powers concerns that justify the President’s broad immunity are not present here.”

Judge Mehta’s ruling on Friday followed several civil suits against Mr Trump under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a civil rights statute that bars the use of “force, intimidation, or threat” to infringe on people’s rights to vote, hold office, testify in court and serve on a jury.

US Reps Eric Swalwell and Bennie Thompson – who also chairs the House select committee investigating the attack – and several US Capitol Police officers have filed claims against the former president, alleging his words incited a mob to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

The former president’s rally speech “was akin to telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer’s home,” Judge Mehta wrote.

In the months leading up to the election and certification of Mr Biden’s victory, Mr Trump and his allies “purposely sowed seeds of doubt about the validity of the presidential election and promoted or condoned acts of violence by the president’s followers, all as part of a scheme to overturn the November 2020 presidential election,” according to the judge.

Those efforts culminated in an assault on a joint session of Congress, according to the judge, in an attack that was fuelled by conspiracy theories and a persistent, baseless narrative that the results were “stolen” from Mr Trump.

The judge’s ruling granted requests by former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Mr Trump’s son Donald Jr to dismiss them as defendants in the suits but denied similar requests from the far-right militia group the Oath Keeper as well as Enrique Tarrio, a leader of the nationalist gang the Proud Boys.

The decision marks the second major blow to Mr Trump’s multiple legal challenges this week.

On Thursday, a judge in New York state court ordered the former president, Donald Jr and Ivanka Trump to respond to questioning under oath from investigators with state Attorney General Letitia James, who is leading civil and criminal inquiries into the family’s business empire, real estate holdings and flagship properties.

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