February 21. 2024. 7:34

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Trump can be sued by injured police over January 6th Capitol riots, says US justice department

Former president Donald Trump can be sued by injured Capitol Police officers and Democratic lawmakers over the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, the justice department said on Thursday, in an ongoing federal court case testing the limits of executive power.

The department said that although a president enjoys broad legal latitude to communicate to the public on matters of concern, “no part of a president’s official responsibilities includes the incitement of imminent private violence”.

“By definition, such conduct plainly falls outside the president’s constitutional and statutory duties”.

The brief was filed by lawyers in the justice department’s civil division and has no bearing on a separate criminal investigation by a department special counsel into whether Mr Trump can be criminally charged over efforts to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election ahead of the Capitol riot.

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In fact, the lawyers note that they are not taking a position with respect to potential criminal liability for Mr Trump or anyone else.

A federal judge in Washington last year rejected efforts by Mr Trump to throw out the conspiracy lawsuits filed by lawmakers and two Capitol police officers, saying in his ruling that the former president’s words “plausibly” led to the riot.

The justice department cautioned that the “court must take care not to adopt rules that would unduly chill legitimate presidential communication” or saddle a president with meritless lawsuits.

“In exercising their traditional communicative functions, presidents routinely address controversial issues that are the subject of passionate feelings.

“Presidents may at times use strong rhetoric. And some who hear that rhetoric may overreact, or even respond with violence,” the department said.

US district court Judge Amit Mehta said in his ruling that Mr Trump’s words during a rally before the violent storming of the US Capitol were likely “words of incitement not protected by the first amendment”.

The lawsuits, filed by Democrat representative Eric Swalwell, officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby, and later joined by other House Democrats, said that Mr Trump and others made “false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the defendant’s express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the US Capitol”. – AP