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Federal appeals court: Trump can be sued in Jan. 6 civil cases

Facing multiple Jan. 6 lawsuits from police officers, Donald Trump has claimed "absolute immunity." A federal appeals court didn't buy it.

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Keeping a complete list of Donald Trump’s legal problems is a daunting task. The former president’s biggest challenge, of course, is the fact that he’s been indicted four times across three jurisdictions, for a total of 91 criminal charges. But that’s where the list starts, not ends.

There’s also the civil case against the Trump Organization, the E. Jean Carroll case, and the lawsuits filed by police officers injured during the Jan. 6 attack.

On that third one, the Republican has tried to get the civil cases thrown out, claiming he has "absolute immunity" in actions related to his term in office. As NBC News reported, a federal appeals court this morning rejected that argument.

“The sole issue before us is whether President Trump has demonstrated an entitlement to official-act immunity for his actions leading up to and on January 6 as alleged in the complaints. We answer no, at least at this stage of the proceedings,” a panel of judges from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. said in its ruling. The three judges noted that Trump is alleged to have instigated the riot during the course of his re-election campaign, and said, “When a first-term President opts to seek a second term, his campaign to win re-election is not an official presidential act.”

The panel included one judge nominated by Barack Obama, one nominated by Bill Clinton, and one nominated by Trump.

For those who might benefit from a refresher, in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, among those who filed lawsuits against Trump were police officers injured during the insurrectionist violence. In fact, multiple cases were filed:

  • In March 2021, two Capitol Police officers, James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby, sued Trump, claiming he was liable for the injuries they suffered during the riot.
  • In August 2021, seven more police officers who were attacked and beaten during the Capitol riot sued the former president.
  • In January 2022, three more police officers — including two who aided the evacuation of lawmakers — sued Trump, seeking damages for their physical and emotional injuries.
  • In January 2023, the longtime partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the Jan. 6 riot, filed a wrongful death civil suit against Trump.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta rejected the “absolute immunity” argument, ruling that Trump could be held liable for damages. “To deny a president immunity from civil damages is no small step. The court well understands the gravity of its decision,” the jurist wrote in his decision. “But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent, and the court believes that its decision is consistent with the purposes behind such immunity.”

The Republican and his legal defense team, not surprisingly, appealed the ruling, hoping to convince the D.C. Circuit of Appeals that Trump’s defense has merit. That didn’t work, clearing the way for the officers’ civil cases to proceed.

But the impact might prove even broader. As NBC News’ report added, “Trump has made a similar immunity claim in special counsel Jack Smith’s criminal case charging that he illegally tried to overturn the election results. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has not yet ruled on the issue.”

With this in mind, it’s a safe bet that Chutkan took note of the D.C. Circuit’s decision.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.

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