Jan 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Judge questions Trump immunity claims in Capitol riot lawsuits

 Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on October 09, 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Former President Trump speaks during an October rally in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A federal judge on Monday challenged former President Donald Trump's claims of "absolute immunity" from three lawsuits related to the U.S. Capitol riot, per Law360.

Why it matters: U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., is for the first time considering Trump's defense that claims against him "directly contravene the absolute immunity conveyed on the President by the Constitution as a key principle of separation of powers."

  • Mehta expressed skepticism about Trump's immunity claims could be extended to telling supporters at a rally ahead of the insurrection to "fight like hell" ahead of the march, according to Law360.

Driving the news: Mehta was hearing oral arguments in relation to lawsuits brought by Democratic lawmakers and two U.S. Capitol police officers against Trump and other defendants, including Donald Trump Jr., the former president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.).

  • "Is there anything a president could say while president of the United States that could subject him to civil suit?" Mehta asked Trump's defense attorney Jesse Binnall, according to the Washington Post.
  • "Is there anything a president could say or do campaigning as a candidate that would not receive immunity?"
  • Mehta also asked what he should do "about the fact the President didn't denounce the conduct immediately," questioning whether "from a plausibility standpoint," that this meant Trump "plausibly agreed with the conduct of the people inside the Capitol that day?," CNN reports.

What they're saying: Binnall told the judge that executive immunity "must be broad," Reuters notes.

The other side: Joseph Sellers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued that Trump's speech was a campaign event, rather than an official act, per Reuters.

  • This meant that a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that presidents are immune from lawsuits over official actions during their presidency would not apply in this case, Sellers argued.

What's next: Mehta will rule in the case at a later date, yet to be specified.

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