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House Democrat sues Trump, Giuliani over Capitol riot position

Reuters, US

(A file report from Hindustan Times)

The lawsuit also names terrorist groups that had members charged as defendants by the Justice Department with engaging in the siege.

In a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, a Democratic congressman accused Donald Trump of inciting the deadly U.S. Capitol revolt and working with his lawyer and terrorist organizations to try to prevent the Senate from certifying the outcome of the presidential election that he lost to Joe Biden. The complaint by Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is part of an anticipated wave of lawsuits over the Jan. 6 riot and is considered to be the first to be brought by a member of Congress. It receives punitive and compensatory damages that are undefined.

The lawsuit also lists as defendants the personal counsel of the Republican former president, Rudy Giuliani, and organizations like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, militant organizations that had members charged with taking part in the siege by the Justice Department. Trump's attorneys denied that he was inciting a riot. On Tuesday, a Trump advisor did not immediately comment on the complaint, and a lawyer for Giuliani did not return an email requesting comment immediately.

The case, brought under a Reconstruction-era law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act in federal court in Washington, comes three days after Trump was convicted in a Senate impeachment trial that focused on charges that he prompted the riot in which five people died. Before and after the siege, the acquittal is likely to open the door to new legal scrutiny over Trump's behavior.

Even some Republicans who voted to acquit Trump on Saturday realized that there was a more suitable forum in the courts to deal with Trump, especially now that he left the White House and lost some legal safeguards that protected him as president.

The suit tracks Trump and Giuliani's drawn-out attempt to cast doubt on the election outcome even though their false charges of fraud were consistently dismissed by courts around the country and state election officials. Despite facts to the contrary, the complaint claims, in the weeks leading to the attack on the Capitol, the men presented the election as stolen while Trump "endorsed rather than discouraged" threats of violence from his angry supporters.

“The carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded at the Save America rally and the storming of the Capitol was no accident or coincidence,” the suit says. “It was the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College.”

Historically, presidents have been given broad immunity from lawsuits for acts they take as commander in chief in their role. But in his personal, not official, capacity, the complaint filed Tuesday was brought against Trump and alleges that none of the actions at issue had to do with his duties as president.

"Inciting a riot, or attempting to interfere with the congressional efforts to ratify the results of the election that are commended by the Constitution, could not conceivably be within the scope of ordinary responsibilities of the president,” Joseph Sellers, a Washington lawyer who along with the NAACP filed the lawsuit on Thompson’s behalf, said in an interview.

"In this respect, he is just like any other private citizen because of his behavior," Sellers said.

While the impeachment case centered specifically on allegations of incitement, the complaint more broadly accuses Trump of conspiring to undermine Congress's constitutional practices, namely the certification of election results that confirmed Biden as the legitimate winner, via a month-long attempt to discredit the outcome and rely on individual states and his own vice president to overthrow it.

In a rally preceding the riot, Trump told supporters to "fight like hell," but during the impeachment trial, attorneys for the former president adamantly denied that he had incited the riot. During his message, they referred to a comment in which he told the crowd that day to act "peacefully." In the litigation, defense attorneys are likely to revisit those assertions. They may also claim, as was done during the impeachment case, that the First Amendment covered Trump's voice.

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