Lawyers for former President Donald Trump formally asked a judge on Wednesday to grant him “absolute immunity” from civil lawsuits related to his role in the Jan. 6 attack.
This shows Trump and his inner circle realize that his plot to unlawfully stay in office after losing the 2020 election — and the violence it precipitated — put him in a dangerous legal position. And as I wrote in June, revelations the House Jan. 6 committee unearthed about Trump’s consciousness of guilt has only strengthened the civil cases against him.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta ruled in February that Trump could be held civilly liable for the Jan. 6 attack, because his pre-riot speech at the Ellipse included several calls to action. But lawyers for Trump filed an appeal Wednesday arguing the court “erred when it held that President Trump’s speech on matters of public concern was not within the scope of his absolute presidential immunity.”
Remarkably, Trump’s legal team went on to claim “Trump was acting well within the scope of ordinary presidential action” on Jan. 6, “when he engaged in open discussion and debate about the integrity of the 2020 election.” (That’s an interesting way to say, “stoked an attempted coup.”)
Trump’s lawyers also argued that examining his tweets and speeches baselessly alleging election fraud would amount to an “intrusion on the executive.”
It’s a desperate argument — and one Mehta already dispensed with in his February ruling.
Along with saying Trump stoked the mob during his Ellipse speech, Mehta said Trump’s repeated use of the word “we” (as in, “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue”) implied he and the armed rallygoers he sent to the Capitol were working toward a common goal. “That is the essence of a civil conspiracy,” Mehta wrote in his February decision.
Believing Trump’s argument requires us to believe that his false claims of election fraud were sacrosanct, even as we continue to hear testimony that he knew these claims were false. And it requires us to believe that the pro-Trump violence — which he literally stoked with calls to “fight like hell” — was somehow unrelated to him.
There are already multiple civil cases against Trump stemming from events that unfolded on Jan. 6. Those include a lawsuit filed by the NAACP and several Democratic lawmakers who were in the Capitol as rioters broke in. Multiple Capitol and Metro police officers have filed civil suits against Trump over the riot, as well.
And testimony from victims who say they experienced harassment by pro-Trump mobs on and before Jan. 6 — like Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss — suggests they have grounds to file civil suits, as well.
The Jan. 6 committee continues to pile evidence of Trump’s culpability in a violently anti-democratic scheme. All the while, the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election is examining Trump’s actions and could prove useful for civil cases against him as well. The fact Team Trump is working so hard to have these cases thrown out proves they’re very afraid the rulings won’t go in their favor. And for good reason.