Justice Dept rejects claim of Trump immunity in January 6 lawsuits

Donald Trump does not have absolute immunity from civil suits seeking damages over his alleged incitement of the January 6 Capitol attack, the U.S. justice department said in a court filing, POLITICO reported.

It could have profound implications for complaints against the former president.

The Department of Justice urged a federal appeals court to reject the sweeping claims of immunity. 

It was a rare nod by the department to the limits of presidential immunity from lawsuits.

Longstanding court precedents protect presidents from civil litigation related to actions they take in their “official” capacity. 

But determining when presidents toggle between their official duties and their political ones — which are often blended and unclear — is complicated, and courts have typically avoided drawing bright lines.

In a brief in a case brought by two Capitol police officers and joined by 11 House Democrats, the justice department said Trump could be held liable for physical and psychological harm suffered during the attack despite his attempts to seek blanket protections.

The department’s brief is a notable benchmark in the long-running lawsuits that arose from the Capitol attack. 

The department said that because actual incitement of imminent private violence – the key legal standard – would not be protected by presidential immunity, the appeals court should reject his contention that he had absolute immunity from civil litigation.

The justice department’s opinion comes after the appeals court asked the government to offer its position while it considered whether Trump was acting within the confines of the office of the presidency when he urged his supporters to “fight like hell” and march on the Capitol.

The sensitivity of the case – the potential impact on other civil suits against Trump that could have implications for presidential immunity – meant the department took several months and made two requests for a month’s extension before finalizing its response.

The Justice Department said a president’s remarks of a purely personal or political nature might in theory be a potential trigger for civil liability, but that the courts need to take extraordinary care when trying to distinguish the official from the political.

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