Trump may be prosecuted by police on January 6, Justice Department says
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Thursday that former President Donald Trump could be prosecuted by police for violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Attorneys for the Justice Department’s Civil Division made it clear in a filing with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that Trump does not have absolute immunity from multiple civil suits, brought by police officers and members of Congress, seeking to hold them liable for damages resulting from the January 6 riot.
“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 area of such speaking,” the brief states. “But that traditional function is that of public communication. It does not include the incitement of imminent private violence of the kind that the district court found plaintiffs’ complaints plausibly allege here.”
The brief carefully avoids taking a position on whether Trump is actually responsible for causing the riot, civilly or criminally, but urges the appeals court to reject Trump’s immunity request and dismiss the cases in a lower court for further litigation.
“Such a narrow ruling would leave for further proceedings in the district court (and, if necessary, future appeal) any new assertion of absolute immunity more narrowly focused on whether the former president’s speech actually constituted an incitement,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta first denied Trump’s immunity request in February 2022, ruling that Trump’s speech at the Jan. 6 White House Ellipse rally cannot be considered a part of his official presidential duties.
“The president’s actions here are unrelated to his duties to faithfully execute the laws, conduct foreign affairs, command the armed forces, or manage the executive,” Mehta wrote at the time. “They are all about his efforts to stay in office for a second term. These are unofficial acts, so the separation of powers concerns that justify the president’s broad immunity are not present here.
In August 2022, Mehta rejected Trump’s attempt to dismiss three lawsuits filed by police officers injured in the Jan. 6 riot, dismissing his claim that he is “absolutely immune” to the claims.
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