Trump rejects blame for Capitol riot, citing ‘unlawful acts of others’

David Yaffe-Bellany
Bloomberg

Washington – Former President Donald Trump asked a judge in Washington to throw out a lawsuit that accuses him of inciting the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, arguing that he can’t be held legally liable for a speech he gave to supporters shortly before they stormed the building.

In a court filing Monday, Trump said a March lawsuit by Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, unfairly seeks to hold him responsible “for the unlawful acts of others.” Trump argued his comments to the crowd that day constituted a type of official act for which presidents are immune from civil litigation, based on established legal precedent.

President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

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“A political speech by the President is not at the ‘outer perimeter’ of his duties – it is at the dead center,” Trump’s lawyers said in the filing. “It is well recognized that rousing and controversial speeches are a key function of the presidency.”

In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., speaks during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021.

Swalwell, who helped lead the second impeachment case against Trump, claims in his suit that the former president conspired with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, his son Donald Trump Jr. and Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama to incite the Capitol riot and violate the civil rights of the members of Congress who had gathered on Jan. 6 to certify the U.S. election results.

Trump’s court filing “strains – unpersuasively – to trivialize the intentional steps Mr. Trump and the other defendants took to wage a dangerous disinformation campaign, to conspire to disrupt Congress’ certification vote, and to incite the deadly riot at the Capitol,” Phil Andonian, a lawyer for Swalwell, said in a statement.

The suit is one of several filed against Trump by members of Congress and police officers who were at the Capitol when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building. Each of the complaints cites Trump’s speech beforehand, in which he urged the crowd to keep fighting the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

A lawyer for Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who is also suing Trump, has argued previously that the speech was outside the bounds of the former president’s official duties.