Former President Donald Trump can be sued by injured Capitol Police officers and Democratic lawmakers over the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the Justice Department said Thursday in an ongoing federal court case testing the limits of executive power.
The department wrote that although a president enjoys broad legal latitude to communicate to the public on matters of concern, “no part of a President’s official responsibilities includes the incitement of imminent private violence. By definition, such conduct plainly falls outside the President’s constitutional and statutory duties.”
The brief was filed by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Civil Division and has no bearing on a separate criminal investigation by a department special counsel into whether Trump can be criminally charged over efforts to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election ahead of the Capitol riot. In fact, the lawyers note that they are not taking a position with respect to potential criminal liability for Trump or anyone else.
A federal judge in Washington last year rejected efforts by Trump to toss out the conspiracy lawsuits filed by lawmakers and two Capitol police officers, saying in his ruling that the former president’s words “plausibly” led to the riot on Jan. 6, 2021. U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta said in his ruling that Trump’s words during a rally before the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol were likely “words of incitement not protected by the First Amendment.”
The lawsuits, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby, and later joined by other House Democrats, argued that Trump and others made “false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the Defendant’s express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol.”