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Judge refuses to toss Jan. 6 lawsuits against Trump

Judge refuses to toss Jan. 6 lawsuits against Trump

  • Over the course of the last year, more than 700 people have been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
    Tyler Merbler/CC BY 2.0Over the course of the last year, more than 700 people have been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Pushing a trio of civil lawsuits filed against former President Donald Trump one step further toward trial, a federal judge in Washington ruled Friday that the evidence-gathering phase of suits aiming to hold Trump liable for the Jan. 6 insurrection may proceed. 

The 112-page opinion penned by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, a Barack Obama appointee, traced his ruling back to Trump’s speech to his supporters at a "Stop the Steal" rally before the attack, where he used phrases like, “We will not take it anymore,” “We will ‘stop the steal’” and “We’re going to have to fight much harder.”

“President Trump’s January 6 Rally Speech was akin to telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer’s home,” Mehta wrote. “He invited his supporters to Washington, D.C., after telling them for months that corrupt and spineless politicians were to blame for stealing an election from them; retold that narrative when thousands of them assembled on the Ellipse; and directed them to march on the Capitol building—the metaphorical corn-dealer’s house—where those very politicians were at work to certify an election that he had lost.”

The ruling notes the former president also falsely said to his supporters that, “All Mike Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president,” while encouraging them to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

“‘We’ used repeatedly in this context implies that the President and rally-goers would be acting together towards a common goal,” Mehta wrote. “That is the essence of a civil conspiracy.”

The ruling denying Trump's motion to dismiss comes in three consolidated lawsuits tracing the insurrection back to the former president, citing the 1871 civil rights law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, which bans conspiracies aimed at the federal government.

Two of the lawsuits in question were filed by Democratic members of the House of Representatives, led by Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson and California Congressman Eric Swalwell, respectively. The third was filed by law enforcement officials who defended the U.S. Capitol on the day of the insurrection, led by Officer James Blassingame, a 17-year veteran of the Capitol Police at the time of the attack.

Trump claimed immunity from the lawsuits, as they regard his conduct as president, but Mehta ruled that Trump’s actions regarding the event weren’t related to “his duties of faithfully executing the laws, conducting foreign affairs, commanding the armed forces, or managing the Executive Branch” and therefore weren’t protected under immunity—meaning Trump, and his collaborators, could be deposed by the plaintiffs during discovery.

"To deny a President immunity from civil damages is no small step,” the judge acknowledged. “The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent.”

After the Senate moved not to convict Trump last year in impeachment proceedings for his role in the insurrection, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested civil litigation as a venue for addressing the former president’s actions.

In their suits, the Democratic lawmakers say that Trump threatened them from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election and that he should be held responsible for his supporters storming the seat of America's government, intent on overturning a democratic presidential election.

Representatives of Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ruling Friday evening.

Mehta also found Friday that claims against the far-right group the Oath Keepers and Proud Boy leader Enrico Tarrio could move forward. However, he dismissed conspiracy claims filed against Trump ally Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump Jr. for their speech at the same rally because they “uttered no words that resembled a call to action.”

Over the course of the last year, more than 700 people have been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection, a House committee has been investigating the attack, and criminal charges have been brought against members of the Trump administration for icing that panel out of information.

Of the more than 700 people charged criminally for participating in the attack, 150 have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from illegally parading inside the Capitol to obstructing an official government proceeding — in this case, the certification of President Joe Biden's 2020 election win.

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