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Judge smacks down Trump’s ‘absolute immunity’ claim in Jan. 6 suits

Donald Trump has suffered a lot of legal setbacks lately, but his defeat in a ruling related to the Jan. 6 attack is easily among the most dramatic.

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In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack, Donald Trump had a variety of concerns, including his second impeachment. But in the final days of the then-president’s term, the Republican also had a very different kind of fear: the possibility of an incitement criminal charge.

The Washington Post reported two days after the violence that Trump’s legal advisers “expressed increasing concern” about the Republican’s “possible criminal liability.” The article added that the he’d been told by attorneys “that he could face legal jeopardy for inciting a mob.” An adviser close to Trump told CNN the then-president was “worried about” being prosecuted.

At least for now, that hasn’t happened. But while Trump hasn’t been indicted for his role in the insurrectionist attack, he has been sued — several times. In March, for example, two congressional Democrats — Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson and California’s Eric Swalwell — filed separate cases against the former president. (Thompson later dropped his case after he became the chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.)

In the months that followed, two different sets of police officers, each of whom are still dealing with the adverse physical and mental effects of the pro-Trump riot, also sued the former president.

Trump’s lawyers tried to have the civil suits tossed, insisting that he had “absolute immunity“ in actions related to his term in office. As NBC News reported, a federal judge had no use for such an argument.

A federal judge on Friday denied former President Donald Trump’s request to toss lawsuits accusing him and others of triggering the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, ruling that he is potentially liable for damages over actions he took as president.

“To deny a president immunity from civil damages is no small step,” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta wrote in his ruling. “The court well understands the gravity of its 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.”

To be sure, Trump has suffered a great many legal setbacks lately, but this is easily among his most dramatic defeats, in part because of the ruling’s conclusions, and in part because of the likely consequences.

Mehta concluded that Trump’s responsibilities for the riot are difficult to ignore: The then-president, the judge found, called followers to Washington, D.C., and dispatched them to the Capitol, knowing full well that violence was likely to soon follow. Pointing to the Republican’s own rhetoric, Mehta wrote that Trump’s Jan. 6 speech was “akin to telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer’s home.”

So what happens now? This district court ruling will be appealed, of course, but as Politico’s report added, Friday afternoon’s decision leaves Trump and members of his team “vulnerable to another flurry of deposition subpoenas and document demands. The ruling also declares Trump potentially liable for conduct while he was the sitting president, a rare and momentous legal decision.”

And if Trump is ultimately held liable in these civil suits, there’s a very real possibility that he’d have to pay damages from his own pocket. Watch this space.

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