DOJ Rejects Trump’s Claim for Absolute Immunity in Jan. 6 Civil Suits
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has weighed in on former President Donald Trump’s claims of presidential immunity in the civil litigation regarding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In a brief submitted to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, the DOJ argued that Trump cannot be immune from civil suits for his conduct on Jan. 6 as it falls outside of the scope of a president’s official duties.
The filing said, “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 DOJ also rejected Trump’s claim of “categorical” immunity from Jan. 6 lawsuits, stressing that courts must approach questions of presidential immunity “with the greatest sensitivity to the unremitting demands of the Presidency.”
The lawsuit was filed under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which makes it a federal crime to “conspire to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat” officials from holding office or carrying out their official duties. Two Capitol cops and 11 Democratic House lawmakers filed a lawsuit with a brief seeking to hold Trump responsible for the mental and physical injuries they sustained from the riot.
The DOJ’s stance comes as Trump has appealed a lower court ruling deeming he is not immune from the suits given that a president’s efforts to “secure or perpetuate incumbency” are not part of the White House role that otherwise prevents the president from facing civil suits for actions taken through the office.
The government stated that presidential immunity in a situation like this would depend on whether the speech in question conformed to the legal criteria for inciting violence — thus leaving the possibility for Trump to try the defense once again sometime in the future. It was written that the court could support the ruling from the lower court based on that “narrow ground” and did not need to investigate the more complicated matters regarding how to differentiate between a president's “official and electoral speech.”.
It is clear from the DOJ’s filing that they reject Trump’s claims of absolute immunity from civil suits stemming from his actions and statements on Jan. 6.
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