Trump again tries to get immunity from Jan. 6 civil suits

Former President Trump on Wednesday urged a federal appeals court in Washington to rule he is “shielded by absolute presidential immunity” from civil lawsuits related to his attempts to remain in the White House despite losing the 2020 election.

Trump is reviving his sweeping assertion of immunity on appeal after the claim was shot down by a district court judge, who refused to dismiss Trump as a defendant in multiple civil suits seeking to hold him liable for his efforts surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

In a February ruling, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, held that Trump could be sued for helping to incite the riot at the Capitol last year because his efforts to undermine President Biden’s victory, including his speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally just before the Capitol was breached, could not be considered official acts.

The ruling prompted Trump’s appeal in March to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The panel of judges presiding over the former president’s appeal has not been selected yet.

In court papers filed Wednesday night, Trump’s lawyers urged the appellate court to find that the lower court judge erred in ruling against Trump’s immunity claim.

“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,” reads Trump’s brief. “No amount of hyperbole about the violence of January 6, 2021, provides a basis for this Court to carve out an exception to the constitutional separation of powers.”

The former president faces multiple civil suits stemming from his effort to overthrow the 2020 election, including legal actions brought by U.S. Capitol Police officers and Democratic House members. The suits claim in part that Trump violated the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a civil rights law that prohibits conspiracies against the federal government or to deprive people of their rights.

Mehta, in his 112-page opinion rejecting Trump’s claim of absolute immunity, said the former president’s post-election effort did not concern official acts, but rather a personal attempt to remain in the White House.

“After all, 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,” Mehta wrote. “They entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term. These are unofficial acts, so the separation-of-powers concerns that justify the President’s broad immunity are not present here.”

In his ruling, Mehta dismissed the cases against Rudy Giuliani, one of the figures that the plaintiffs alleged had participated in the conspiracy. He also narrowed the claims against Trump, but upheld the count brought under the Ku Klux Klan Act.