Federal Judge Ruins Trump’s Three-Day Weekend, Rules He Can Be Held Liable for January 6 Violence

When Donald Trump was president, he and his attorneys regularly claimed that he couldn’t be held accountable for anything he did because he was leader of the free world, and leaders of the free world can do anything they want. When he was sued for defamation by writer E. Jean Carroll, whose rape accusations Trump claimed were a lie while implying she wasn’t good looking enough for him? According to then attorney general William Barr, Trump was acting in his official capacity as POTUS at the time, and therefore couldn’t be sued. When he attempted to extort another country for his own political gain? He was just doing what all first-term presidents do, his impeachment lawyer insisted. When he allegedly committed fraud with regard to hush money payments to a porn star? In that instance, his attorneys argued that it was unconstitutional for presidents to be investigated for any crimes while in office—including, they boldly claimed, shooting a person on Fifth Avenue.

So when it came time to mount their various defenses as to why Trump should get off scot-free for inciting an insurrection, it was obvious that one of them was going to be, basically, “Presidents say a lot things and it would be extremely dangerous if we started holding them responsible for any of it, even if, in this case, the ‘it’ is a call for their supporters to violently overturn an election because they can’t come to grips with the fact that they lost.” (In addition to claiming Trump can’t be liable for things he said while in office, the ex-president’s attorneys have insisted he never meant for any of his followers to take his words literally.) While that reasoning may have helped the former guy evade accountability in the past, at least one federal judge has now declared it bullshit that won’t fly in his court.

In a 112-page ruling issued Friday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said three damages-seeking lawsuits against Trump can move forward because there is clear evidence to suggest that Trump instructed “Stop the Steal” rally-goers to march on Capitol, all the while knowing they would likely engage in violence.

As Mehta wrote: Trump “directly participated in the rally’s planning, and his campaign funded the rally with millions of dollars. At the rally itself, the President gave a rousing speech in which he repeated the false narrative of a stolen election…. Still, the President ended his speech by telling the crowd that ‘we fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.’ Almost immediately after these words, he called on rally-goers to march to the Capitol to give ‘pride and boldness’ to reluctant lawmakers ‘to take back our country.’ Importantly, it was the President and his campaign’s idea to send thousands to the Capitol while the Certification was underway.”

Mehta also wrote that “it is reasonable to infer that the President knew” that “militia groups” like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers were in D.C. on January 6, and that “they were prepared to partake in violence for him.” Moreover, Mehta noted, the idea that there was “a tacit agreement” between Trump and those doing violence on his behalf “is made all the more plausible by his response to the violence that erupted at the Capitol building.” For example, roughly 12 minutes after rioters breached the building, Trump didn’t call them off but rather attacked Pence on Twitter, criticizing the V.P. for not “hav[ing] the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country.” Meanwhile, it wasn’t until around 6 p.m. that the president issued some kind of statement, wherein he basically claimed what had just occurred was justified, writing, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!” As Mehta wrote, it’s not hard to “read that tweet as ratifying the violence and other illegal acts that took place at the Capitol only hours earlier.”

While making it clear that he understands “deny[ing] a President immunity from civil damages is no small step,” Mehta wrote that “the alleged facts of this case are without precedent, and the court believes that its decision is consistent with the purposes behind such immunity.” Mehta added that while Trump‘s lawyers insist he was just performing his role as president when he incited a riot that left five people dead, Trump’s actions surrounding January 6 had nothing to do with “his duties of faithfully executing the laws, conducting foreign affairs, commanding the armed forces, or managing the Executive Branch,” but instead “entirely concern[ed] his efforts to remain in office for a second term.” In other words, trying to steal an election does not, in fact, fall under the POTUS’s job description, so you can take your immunity claims back to Mar-a-Lago and flush them down whichever toilet isn’t currently clogged with classified documents.

According to Politico, Trump does not have the immediate right to appeal the decision but can ask the judge for permission, which he undoubtedly will in an extremely all-caps fashion.

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