Did Donald Trump encourage his supporters to act at the 2021 Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6, 2021 to be held responsible for the assault on Capitol Hill that day?
If you believe the conclusions of the United States House Select Committee that investigated the Jan. 6th attack, you clearly blame Trump for the insurrection. But back earlier in the year, a judge wrote that Trump was responsible for directly influencing one rioter’s actions on that day.
This ruling might influence other civil cases against the former president for his words on January 6.
A Legal Opinion on Donald Trump
Months back, Danean MacAndrew of California was convicted of violent entry and disorderly conduct at the Capitol complex. The judge in the three-day bench trial (a trial without a jury) determined that Trump was at least partially responsible for MacAndrew’s actions.
The judge said MacAndrew was “heeding the call of former President Trump, and she continued onwards to ‘stop the steal.’”
Kollar-Kotelly wrote, “And at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally, then-President Trump eponymously exhorted his supporters to, in fact, stop the steal by marching to the Capitol.”
At the time, Trump’s spokesperson, Liz Harrington, disagreed with the judge in a rejoinder reported by Axios, stating that Donald Trump “urged the crowd to ‘peacefully and patriotically’ make your voices heard.” Harrington said the judge specifically left these words out of her opinion document.
Setting a Precedent?
Other convicted rioters have claimed Trump guided their unlawful action on January 6. Dustin Byron Thompson of Ohio, who was found guilty last April of 2022, blamed Trump for his activities in the attack on Capitol grounds. Thompson claimed that Trump gave him “presidential orders.” Thompson was sentenced in November to serve 36 months for his transgressions.
The California judge’s opinion on the MacAndrew case is noteworthy because it appears to be in step with the findings from the January 6 Congressional committee investigation. This could create a precedent in which other judges will also cite Trump’s culpability. These opinions could be used in civil cases against Trump for allegedly inciting the rioters.
Trump has made a federal appeal to be immune from civil lawsuits regarding January 6. Trump is facing lawsuits from police officers and Members of Congress that are based on evidence that he allegedly fired up the crowd, for instance by telling his supporters to “fight like hell.”
Trump’s lawyers have maintained that he was performing regular presidential duties in his capacity of speech-giving and therefore should be immune from civil suits.
Trump attorney Jesse Binnall told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that Donald Trump was simply commenting on outside events, which is in his power of practicing the “bully pulpit” that other presidents use to rightfully communicate.
Can Presidents Be Sued for Speeches?
Reuters said in December that a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling held that “presidents cannot be sued over their official acts.”
However, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C. ruled in February last year that Trump’s speech before the riots did not fall under his scope of duties.
This allowed the suits to proceed.
The federal judge in California may be giving fodder for plaintiffs who are seeking monetary damages for injuries they sustained on January 6 defending the Capitol, and this could give the former president more legal liability in his defense during those proceedings.
Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.