Is former President Donald Trump immune from liability related to his supporters’ attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021? A federal judge in Washington, DC is considering it for the first time.
Judge Amit Mehta on Monday questioned Trump’s actions during his speech in the moments that led up to his supporters storming the Capitol building one year ago. During the court hearing, Mehta repeatedly pointed out that Trump directly asked the crowd to march to the Capitol, and then neglected to speak up for two hours asking the supporters to stop their violence.
Mehta said that the words were hard to walk back, and that there was a two-hour window where he never said “stop, get out of the Capitol,” or that that was not what he had wanted them to do.
The judge pointed to the fact that Trump did not immediately denounce the violence, and rather, sent a tweet that “arguably exacerbated things.” The judge questioned whether this, from a plausibility standpoint, evidence that Trump plausibly agreed with his supporters’ conduct inside the Capitol.
The major hearing lasted nearly five hours, at the end of which, Mehta did not rule. Throughout the entire hearing, Mehta rarely showed if he was leaning one way or the other. It marks the first major test of whether civil litigation is a potential route to hold leaders accountable for the insurrection.
It was part of a trio of lawsuits related to the Capitol insurrection that seek to hold Trump and other Republican figures accountable.
Experts say that Mehta’s line of questioning is a foreboding sign for Trump and his allies. Trump’s lawyer Jesse Binnall tried arguing that Trump’s words, while he was president, should be completely immune from liability, including his speech on January 6.
Mehta said that Binnall would have him completely ignore in its entirety what Trump said, and pointed to a Supreme Court case that established the parameters of presidential immunity, noting that this does not appear to be what the precedence was set on in terms of boundaries of presidential immunity.