Trump Claims Presidential Immunity From Capitol Riot Lawsuit
(Bloomberg) -- Former President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani asked a federal judge in Washington to throw out a lawsuit by House Democrats who accuse them of helping to incite the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Both men spoke at the pro-Trump rally that preceded the riot. In court filings late Wednesday, Trump argued his speech was a presidential act for which he can’t be held legally liable, while Giuliani contended that the suit failed to show that he and Trump planned or coordinated the insurrection.
They were responding to a suit filed in February by Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat. The lawsuit, later joined by 10 other House Democrats, argued that Trump and Giuliani conspired with far-right groups the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys to incite the invasion of the Capitol.
Trump also asserted immunity earlier this week in response to a similar lawsuit by Representative Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat. Under established legal precedent, presidents are immune from civil litigation targeting official acts, and Trump claims that his speech falls into that category.
Both Swalwell and Thompson allege Trump’s speech was outside his duties as president.
“Precluding civil litigation against the president is vital to ensuring a functioning executive branch,” Trump’s lawyer, Jesse Binnall, wrote in the new filing.
For his part, Giuliani called the claim of a conspiracy “fantastical” and said his speech before the riot was protected by the First Amendment.
Joe Sellers and Janette McCarthy Wallace, lawyers for the House Democrats, called the dismissal requests by Trump and Giuliani “groundless” in a statement issued Thursday.
“It is apparent that these defendants, having fomented and participated in an insurrection to stop Congress from certifying a free and fair election, seek to avoid any and all legal responsibility for their extraordinary attack on our democracy,” Sellers and Wallace said. “We will continue to press ahead with our case and hold them accountable for their attempts to subvert our constitution.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the Oath Keepers filed a formal response to Thompson’s suit, arguing that it had failed to show that the group as a whole was responsible for the violence at the Capitol.
Since the riot at the Capitol, the Oath Keepers, a loose militia organization largely comprised of veterans and former police officers, has become one of the primary targets of the Justice Department’s sweeping investigation of the violence at the Capitol. The largest criminal case to emerge from the probe centers on a group of Oath Keepers who allegedly trained to storm the Capitol weeks beforehand and communicated with each other throughout the siege.
In his filing, Giuliani seemed to deflect blame onto the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, arguing that “the attack on the Capitol was, in substantial part, the result of coordinated efforts by extremist groups.”
The Proud Boys have not yet filed an official response to Thompson’s lawsuit.
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