DOJ Says Trump Can Be Sued Over January 6
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on the telephone via speakerphone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in the Oval Office of the White House on August 27, 2018 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Justice Department (DOJ) said Thursday that former President Donald Trump can be sued in connection to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Attorneys for the DOJ Civil Division filed a court brief in response to the D.C. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking the agency to respond to Trump’s claim of absolute immunity in a bid to dismiss the civil lawsuits brought against him.

“Speaking to the public on matters of public concern is a traditional function of the Presidency, and the outer perimeter of the President’s Office includes a vast realm of such speech,” government lawyers wrote.

“But that traditional function is one of public communication,” they added. “It does not include incitement of imminent private violence.”

Two Capitol Police officers and 11 Democrats have sued Trump in an attempt to hold him liable for the events of January 6, 2021, when a crowd of people entered the U.S. Capitol, disrupting lawmakers who were meeting to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. The plaintiffs include Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), and Maxine Waters (D-CA).

Looming large over the litigation is Trump’s speech at a rally on the White House Ellipse before the Capitol breach. Trump urged people to “fight like hell” over allegations of election fraud. And he remarked on supporters marching to the U.S. Capitol “to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”


Trump’s lawyers argued their client was protected by his “ironclad presidential immunity as it relates to speechmaking.” But U.S. District Court Judge Judge Amit Mehta ruled in February of last year that the lawsuits, which were consolidated into one case, could move forward as Trump’s message to supporters was “the essence of civil conspiracy.” Trump’s legal team sought relief from the appellate court, which led to an invitation to the DOJ to weigh in on the question of presidential immunity.

DOJ lawyers wrote in their Thursday filing that the judge concluded the plaintiffs’ complaints “plausibly” allege that Trump’s speech at a rally on the White House Ellipse during which he encouraged supporters to march to the U.S. Capitol “precipitated” the violence that followed.

“The United States expresses no view on that conclusion, or on the truth of the allegations in plaintiffs’ complaints,” the government lawyers added. “But in the United States’ view, such incitement of imminent private violence would not be within the outer perimeter of the Office of the President of the United States.”

Trump and his allies face various other kinds of lawsuits stemming from January 6, the 2020 election, and beyond. There are also criminal investigations, including one being led by the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, and special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed to the task by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Trump broadly denies any wrongdoing, often claiming he is the target of a “witch hunt.”

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