A federal judge issued a starkly critical ruling Friday against former President Donald Trump, refusing to dismiss civil suits accusing him of culpability for the assault on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and pointing to one of his tweets as “encouragement” of violence.
US District Judge Amit Mehta also called it “plausible” that Trump had a “tacit” agreement with the violent Oath Keepers and Proud Boys about the attempts that day to upend the 2020 presidential election results. A “civil conspiracy” is an agreement to “participate in an unlawful act” that can be actual or tacit, the judge noted.
Mehta shot down Trump’s claim that his actions that day are immune from court procedures because they were part of his official duties. The judge noted that attempts to overthrow an election are not among the official duties of a president.
Mehta’s ruling concerned multiple civil suits that have been filed against Trump by police offers who were at the US Capitol during the attack and by Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. They all cite the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, which prohibits Americans from being denied their civil rights, including by government officials.
“To deny a President immunity from civil damages is no small step,” Mehta acknowledged in his ruling. “The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent.”
Trump’s “actions here do not relate to his duties of faithfully executing the laws, conducting foreign affairs, commanding the armed forces, or managing the Executive Branch,” Mehta wrote. “They entirely concern his efforts to remain 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.”
Mehta also pointed to a link between Trump and the violence that day.
“It is at least plausible to infer that, when he called on rally-goers to march to the Capitol, the President did so with the goal of disrupting lawmakers’ efforts to certify the Electoral College votes,” Mehta argued. “The Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and others who forced their way into the Capitol building plainly shared in that unlawful goal.”
Some 12 minutes after rioters entered the Capitol, Trump “sent a tweet criticizing the Vice President for not ‘hav[ing] the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country. Rioters repeated that criticism at the Capitol, some of whom saw it as encouragement to further violence,” Mehta noted in his ruling.
Mehta also criticized Trump’s speech at a rally shortly before the storming of the Capitol, in which he urged his followers to “fight like hell.”
His speech was “akin to telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer’s home,” Mehta wrote. Trump raged for weeks against “corrupt and spineless politicians,” then directed his followers to “march on the Capitol,” where his targeted politicians were gathered, the judge added.
After the Capitol was cleared, Trump tweeted: “These are the things that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots …. Remember this day forever!” Mehta said, “A reasonable observer could read that tweet as ratifying the violence and other illegal acts that took place.”
In a separate ruling later Friday, Mehta ordered Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes to remain in jail while he awaits trial on charges that he plotted with members of his far-right militia group to attack the US Capitol to try to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral votes.
Rhodes remains a “clear and convincing danger” to the public, Mehta said.
Mehta’s ruling against Trump was the latest in what turned out to be another bad week for the former president. A judge on Thursday ordered Trump — along with his daughter Ivanka Trump and son Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas and testify under oath in a civil investigation launched by New York State Attorney General Letitia James into suspicious Trump Organization business practices.
On Monday, the Mazars USA accounting firm severed ties with the Trump Organization, saying that 10 years of financial statements it created with records Trump’s company supplied are not reliable. That led the House Oversight and Reform Committee to call on the General Services Administration to consider terminating Trump’s lease at the Trump International Hotel site in Washington, DC
Also on Monday, Biden agreed to release White House logs of visitors throughout the day of the Capitol riot.
And HuffPost reported Friday that Trump directed $375,000 in donations from his followers to be paid in rent for an unused office in Trump Tower in Manhattan.