Donald Trump

Trump's Lawyer Says His Speech at Jan. 6 Rally Is Protected by Immunity, Asks Judge to Dismiss Lawsuits Blaming Him for Capitol Riot

Jim Bourg | Reuters
  • A federal judge Monday questioned a lawyer for Donald Trump about his claim that virtually everything said by a sitting president is protected by absolute immunity.
  • Trump asked the judge to dismiss three lawsuits blaming him for inciting the deadly Capitol riot.
  • The lawsuits were filed by two U.S. Capitol police officers and numerous House Democrats. Donald Trump Jr., ex-Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., are also named as defendants in some of the suits.

A federal judge Monday questioned a lawyer for Donald Trump about his claim that virtually everything said by a sitting president is protected by absolute immunity, a key component of Trump's bid to dismiss multiple civil lawsuits blaming him for the deadly Capitol riot.

"I cannot come up with an example of something the president says as president" that would not be protected from litigation, attorney Jesse Binnall told Judge Amit Mehta during a hearing in Washington federal court.

The lawsuits were filed by Democratic lawmakers and police officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of Trump's supporters stormed the building and temporarily stopped Congress from confirming President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory.

Two U.S. Capitol police officers are suing for damages for physical and emotional injuries suffered during the riot. The lawsuit from Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., also names Donald Trump Jr., ex-Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., as defendants. Eleven other House Democrats filed their own lawsuit against Trump, Giuliani and the right-wing groups Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

The two lawsuits from House Democrats both cite the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, intended to protect against political violence and intimidation. All three groups of plaintiffs accuse Trump of inciting the invasion.

But the lawsuits "never should have been brought in the first place," Binnall said in lengthy oral arguments held by teleconference Monday afternoon. He argued that the lawsuits are "chock full of propaganda" and are intended to "score points" against Democrats' political rivals.

Trump's speech at a rally outside the White House on the day of the riot falls squarely within the limits of presidential immunity, Binnall said. In that speech, Trump — who had spent prior weeks spreading the false conspiracy theory that his loss to Biden was the result of widespread fraud — directed his supporters to march to the Capitol to pressure Republican lawmakers to reject the 2020 election results.

Mehta, who was nominated to the D.C. district court in 2014 by then-President Barack Obama, sounded skeptical of Binnall's extremely broad view of immunity protections for presidential speech.

"You would have me ignore what he said in its entirety?" Mehta asked Binnall, referring to the content of Trump's speech on Jan. 6. Binnall said yes.

When the judge asked if there was anything a president could say or do that would not be immune from liability, Binnall replied, "For say, I can't think of an example."

Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that Mehta should not dismiss their lawsuits because legal complaints laid out a plausible case that Trump whipped up his followers and then dispatched them to the Capitol, where many of them then invaded the building.

Binnall is also representing the former president in a lawsuit pending before the Supreme Court, which aims to block the production of a tranche of White House records to a House select committee investigating Trump's role in the Capitol riot.

The committee is reportedly investigating a range of possible criminal conduct, potentially including possible criminal conduct by Trump.

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