US appeals court says Trump must face lawsuits over US Capitol attack

WASHINGTON, Dec 1 (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Friday ruled that Donald Trump must face civil lawsuits over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by his supporters, rejecting the former president’s claim that he is immune.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that Trump was acting “in his personal capacity as a presidential candidate” when he urged his supporters to march to the Capitol on the day of the riot. U.S. presidents are immune from civil lawsuits only for official actions.

The ruling clears the way for Trump to face lawsuits from U.S. Capitol police officers and Democratic lawmakers seeking to hold Trump responsible for the violence by his supporters during the riot, which was an attempt to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

The case is one of several civil and criminal challenges facing the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 election.

The unanimous decision focused only on whether Trump could be sued, and said nothing about the merits of the cases themselves.

Trump argued that his speech exhorting his followers to “fight like hell” against the certification of the election was related to a “matter of public concern” and fell within his official responsibilities.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Summerville

Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a 2024 presidential election campaign event in Summerville, South Carolina, U.S. September 25, 2023. REUTERS/Sam Wolfe/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

A Trump spokesperson on Friday called the ruling “limited, narrow and procedural” and said Trump was “acting on behalf of the American people” on the day of the attack.

Trump has made a similar immunity argument in the federal criminal case accusing him of illegally conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election. A judge has not yet ruled on the issue in that case.

While the ruling on Friday explicitly stated it was not weighing in on Trump’s possible criminal immunity, both cases involve Trump’s conduct before and during the Capitol riot.

In their lawsuit, Capitol Police officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby accused Trump of being responsible for physical and emotional injuries they suffered as a result of the Capitol attack.

“Today’s ruling makes clear that those who endanger our democracy and the lives of those sworn to defend it will be held to account,” Patrick Malone, a lawyer for the officers, said in a statement.

Two lawsuits were filed by House Democrats, one by 10 lawmakers including Representatives Jerry Nadler and Maxine Waters and the other by Representative Eric Swalwell.

Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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