Trump is asking an appeals court to give him immunity from civil lawsuits linked to the January 6 Capitol riot

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Donald Trump speaking
Former President Donald Trump is trying to secure immunity from any civil suits related to the Capitol riot.Seth Herald/Getty Images
  • Donald Trump is trying again to get immunity from civil lawsuits related to the Capitol riot.

  • His team filed an application Wednesday to appeal an earlier court decision.

  • The February judgment ruled that Trump could be held liable in civil suits for any wrongdoing.

Former President Donald Trump is urging a federal appeals court to rule that immunity from his past office shields him from civil lawsuits alleging that he incited the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

In a 48-page filing, Trump's lawyers asked the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to overturn a February decision in which a federal judge declined to dismiss civil lawsuits seeking to hold Trump accountable for his incendiary rhetoric ahead of the Capitol riot.

Trump's lawyers asserted that Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee confirmed in 2014, refused to dismiss the lawsuits out of a distaste for Trump's speech on January 6, in which the then-president encouraged his supporters to "fight like hell." But Trump's lawyers said the immunity afforded to the former president cannot be "undercut if the presidential act in question is unpopular among the judiciary."

"The underlying factual dispute regarding the January 6, 2021, violence at the Capitol arouses the passions of many Americans, including members of the bench and bar," Trump's lawyers contended. "Consequently, it is especially important to avoid allowing the judicial department to pass judgment on the political statements and discourse of the President of the United States."

Trump's lawyers raised those arguments as they sought to fend off lawsuits from House lawmakers and two Capitol police officers who were injured during the January 6 attack. The civil lawsuits are proceeding as a House committee and the Justice Department mount parallel investigations into the Capitol attack and the efforts of Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election.

In recent days, federal prosecutors have directly asked witnesses about Trump's involvement in efforts to overturn the election, suggesting that the Justice Department is increasingly scrutinizing the former president.

Weeks earlier, federal agents seized the phone of John Eastman, a lawyer who helped advise Trump on how to overturn the 2020 election. On the same day last month, federal investigators searched the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who embraced Trump's baseless claims of election fraud.

In his February ruling, Mehta indicated an appreciation of presidential immunity but found that Trump's rhetoric on January 6 was "akin to telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer's home." Mehta said Trump later displayed a tacit agreement with the mob, minutes after rioters breached the Capitol, when he sent a tweet admonishing then-Vice President for lacking the "courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country."

"To deny a President immunity from civil damages 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.

Trump's lawyers argued in their court filing Wednesday that there were existing, separate means of punishing a president over misconduct in office.

Citing impeachment as an example, they wrote that a "Democratic-controlled House" had already formally reprimanded Trump over the riot in early 2021. Any lawsuits in addition that impeachment — the second in Trump's one term in office — amounted to harassment, the former president's lawyers said.

The Senate acquitted Trump in a 57-43 vote in February.

Trump's team also said "hyperbole about the violence of January 6" shouldn't undermine Trump's protection from legal action as a former president.

"President Trump is shielded by absolute presidential immunity because his statements were on matters of public concern and therefore well within the scope of the robust absolute immunity afforded all presidents," Trump's team said in the filing.

Trump's lawyers asked for the DC Circuit to hear oral arguments in the case.

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