- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
With well over 100 rioters already arrested, and major criminal investigations still in progress, it is time for the Biden administration to start efforts to recover the millions of dollars in cleanup and physical restoration costs owed the United States from the insurrection. In addition, those responsible for the invasion are also obligated to pay for the military, national guard and other Inauguration Day security expenses made necessary to assure that nothing like Jan. 6 happened at the swearing in. It is not likely that, even collectively, the individuals who have been arrested will begin to have enough money to scratch the surface of that debt.
But there is one person who is responsible, has the money, and for whom money talks: private citizen Donald J. Trump, who should be the lead defendant in a case to be brought by United States to reimburse the government for its monetary losses. Of course, despite his promise to join the rioters at the Capitol, the then-president was safely hiding out in the White House, but that will not relieve him of the legal liability for pulling the rhetorical trigger to start the invasion.
Defendants should include Giuliani
If there has ever been better direct evidence of a leader commanding his troops to enter battle, it is hard to think of it. That video, which will be the center of the upcoming impeachment trial, would be exhibit number one in the multi-million-dollar civil damages suit. No doubt, Trump will point to his subsequent statements in which he claimed to oppose violence, and the government — represented by a Biden attorney general — will counter with his many other public statements making it clear that he was urging his supporters to do whatever was necessary to stop the election certification that was violently interrupted by the invaders on Jan. 6.
It will be up to a federal judge and/or a jury of District of Columbia citizens to decide whether Trump is liable to pay the costs of the ensuing riot. And when they do, the answer should be obvious: if Trump had said, “please do not go to the Capitol, let the count go forward, and I am prepared to accept the verdict,” is there any doubt that the insurrection would have dissipated?
There are other non-marchers who must be named as defendants. Most prominent is enabler-in-chief Rudy Giuliani who, standing by the president, urged the mob to engage in “trial by combat” to stop the certification from taking place. Joining him as named defendants, because they verbally seconded Trump’s incitement that day, should be other members of his family and perhaps some Republican members of Congress. They, like Rudy, have responsibility and money and, at the least, will be important witnesses who will have vital information about Trump's motives and knowledge.
It also appears that the rioters did not all come on their own and that they were supported financially, organizationally and logistically in ways that made it possible for the 15,000 or more invaders to travel to Washington. Those groups and their leaders, whether present at the Capitol or not, are also responsible for what happened and should be named as defendants. Fortunately, the FBI, the Secret Service and other agencies are gathering evidence for the criminal cases which can be eventually, with proper safeguards, be used to enable the United States to recover what it is owed.
The claim is not complicated: if someone broke into your house, tore up the furniture, and broke your doors and windows, could they escape liability because they said they had a serious disagreement with your politics? On the merits, that’s what most of this case will involve.
There have also been enormous costs for additional security, both to stop the carnage that day, and to guard against a repetition two weeks later. These include not only the barriers that had to be put in place, but all the expenses related to the stationing of additional federal troops, national guard and other law enforcement personnel. Many of those costs may not have been initially borne by the federal government, but whoever did should be able to assign their claims to the United States, which can sue on their behalf.
File suits and demand accountability
Most of the members of Congress, their staffs, the Capitol police, reporters, and others caught by the invasion also have claims for physical and emotional injuries. They too can be expected to file suit, with or without their own lawyers. The Justice Department cannot represent them directly, but it can take the lead in establishing who is liable, which will greatly simplify their cases. Perhaps most enticingly, if Donald Trump and his family are held liable, the world will find out just how much money they actually have.
The American people are demanding accountability. Impeachment or not, the case of United States of America vs Donald J. Trump will provide it, in the only language that Mr. Trump understands: millions of dollars in a civil verdict against him.
Alan B. Morrison is an associate dean at George Washington University Law School where he teaches civil procedure and constitutional law.
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump should be sued to pay for Capitol riot cleanup