A federal judge shot down former President Trump’s claim of “absolute immunity” from multiple lawsuits accusing him of inciting the deadly Capitol insurrection last year.
In a 112-page ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta cited Trump’s previous public statements while outlining his refusal to dismiss three lawsuits against the former president by House Democrats and police officers.
Mehta wrote that evidence suggests Trump’s election fraud falsehoods incited the mob of his supporters who stormed the Capitol. Mehta said that the former president’s conduct was not immune on separation-of-powers grounds because it fell beyond the “outer perimeter” of a president’s official duties.
“The President’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. They entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term. These are unofficial acts,” Mehta wrote.
Mehta also pointed to Trump’s tweets attacking his then-Vice President Mike Pence, who presided over the joint session of Congress certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory last year.
“It is reasonable to infer that the President would have understood the impact of his tweet, since he had told rally-goers earlier that, in effect, the Vice President was the last line of defense against a stolen election outcome,” Mehta wrote.
Additionally, Mehta took aim at Trump’s demand for his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn the election results during a “Stop the Steal” rally hours before insurrection. Mehta ruled that Trump’s statements leading up to the insurrection were “an implicit call for imminent violence or lawlessness.”
“He called for thousands ‘to fight like hell’ immediately before directing an unpermitted march to the Capitol, where the targets of their ire were at work, knowing that militia groups and others among the crowd were prone to violence,” Mehta wrote.
Mehta acknowledged that denying Trump immunity from civil damages for his conduct as a sitting president is “no small step.”
“The court well understands the gravity of its decision,” Mehta wrote. “But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent, and the court believes that its decision is consistent with the purposes behind such immunity.”
The lawsuits also included Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), as well as Oath Keepers and Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio. But in his ruling, Mehta said he would drop Trump Jr., Giuliani and Brooks as defendants — all of whom spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally alongside Trump hours before the insurrection. Mehtha said that their alleged actions were limited to less inflammatory remarks during the rally.
Trump’s legal team is likely to appeal Mehta’s decision.
Mehta’s ruling comes after multiple blows to the former president’s attempts to block the Jan. 6 Select Committee from accessing certain White House records. Trump has tried to invoke executive privilege over the records.
Last week, President Biden shot down Trump’s efforts to shield records of who visited the White House on Jan. 6 last year. In a letter to National Archivist David Ferriero, White House counsel Dana Remus said Biden was rejecting his predecessor’s executive privilege claim over the visitor logs, which the Jan. 6 Committee is seeking out in its probe into last year’s Capitol attack.