Court rules Donald Trump can be held liable for inciting Capitol riot

In a significant ruling, a federal appeals court has determined that former President Donald Trump can be sued in civil court for allegedly inciting the riot on Capitol Hill in January 2021. The decision stems from two injured Capitol Police officers filing lawsuits against Mr. Trump, accusing him of encouraging the crowd to “fight like hell” moments before the violent events unfolded. While Mr. Trump’s defense team had argued for immunity based on his presidential role, the three-judge panel concluded that his remarks were not made in an official capacity. They contended that Mr. Trump was acting as a candidate, not as the President, at the time of the speech. This ruling has potential implications for the multiple lawsuits arising from the Capitol riot, though it does not establish liability for Mr. Trump in this specific case.

The court’s decision rests on the distinction between a president’s official duties and actions taken as part of a reelection campaign. They emphasize that campaigning for a second term cannot be considered an official act of the presidency, as the office is independent of the occupant. Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan expounded on this, stating, “The Office of the Presidency as an institution is agnostic about who will occupy it next. And campaigning to gain that office is not an official act of the office.”

It is important to note that this ruling merely establishes that Mr. Trump was acting outside the scope of his official duties during the events leading up to the riot. It does not declare him liable for the lawsuits against him. Mr. Trump still has the opportunity to argue in future cases that he was acting as the President, not as a candidate. Additionally, he can appeal this decision to the US Supreme Court, which has a conservative-leaning majority.

Nonetheless, this unanimous ruling opens the door for further legal actions against Mr. Trump regarding his alleged role in inciting the violence at the Capitol. The decision may embolden other individuals or organizations to pursue lawsuits, seeking damages for the injuries and harm caused during the riot. The potential financial and reputational consequences for Mr. Trump are significant, especially considering he is currently the frontrunner among Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in the 2024 election.

This ruling carries broader implications for the future accountability of political figures and the boundaries of presidential immunity. It reaffirms that presidents can be held liable for actions deemed to fall beyond the “outer perimeter” of their responsibilities. Consequently, the decision may influence how future presidents exercise their authority and deliver public speeches, considering the potential legal repercussions they may face.

The Capitol riot, which unfolded as lawmakers were meeting to certify President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, resulted in the injury of at least 138 Capitol and Metropolitan Police officers. Tragically, four police officers died by suicide in the months following the attack. Capitol Police officers James Blasingame and Sidney Hemby, who suffered physical and emotional injuries, have brought lawsuits against Mr. Trump. They are seeking compensatory damages as well as punitive damages, the financial amount of which has not been disclosed.

Patrick Malone, the attorney representing the officers, expressed satisfaction with the court’s ruling, stating, “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.” This decision potentially sets a precedent for future accountability for individuals who incite violence or pose a threat to democratic processes.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s legal challenges persist. Alongside the Capitol riot lawsuits, he faces a civil trial in New York. In a separate development, the judge overseeing this trial has reinstated a gag order that prohibits Mr. Trump from making disparaging comments about court personnel.

The court ruling regarding his potential liability for inciting the Capitol riot adds to the mounting legal consequences Mr. Trump may face in the future. As the lawsuits progress, they may further impact his reputation and influence the political landscape in the lead-up to the 2024 election.