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Democratic congressman sues Trump over Capitol riots

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 17: Chairman Bennie G. Thompson of the House Committee on Homeland Security in Washington, DC on September 17, 2020. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via CN)

WASHINGTON (CN) — In the first of what is expected to be a mountain of litigation filed against the former president, a Democratic congressman brought a federal complaint accusing Donald Trump of inciting last month’s deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. 

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday morning in Washington by Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. According to NAACP lawyers who are representing the Black lawmaker, other Democrats in Congress, including Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, are expected to join as plaintiffs in the coming weeks.

At 32 pages, the lawsuit builds the case against Trump in a similar way to the Senate impeachment trial that ended Saturday in an acquittal.

Rather than focusing solely on accusations of incitement, however, Thompson accuses Trump more broadly of a months long conspiracy to disrupt the constitutional activities of Congress.

“The carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded at the Save America rally and the storming of the Capitol was no accident or coincidence,” the complaint states. “It was the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College.”
Trump is named as a defendant to the suit alongside his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani and the extremist groups known as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers — both of which have been charged for taking part in the riots by the Department of Justice.

Joseph Sellers with Cohen Milstein is co-counsel in the case. In a press call Tuesday, he said the point is not to relitigate the impeachment trial, but that aspects of those proceedings will necessarily overlap with the evidence they are gathering. 

“The impeachment trial was, of course, a political process, and we believe the results were the result of a political process,” Sellers said. “This suit has been filed in a court of law where the rule of law will apply.”

Outlining the events that led up to the Jan. 6 insurrection, the complaint details the efforts that Trump and Giuliani took to cast doubts on the 2020 election results and fuel anger and violence among Trump’s most ardent supporters, even though courts and state election officials repeatedly rejected their allegations of fraud. 

Thompson’s case leans on the rarely litigated 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction-era statute that intended to protect members of Congress and Black Americans from white supremacist violence and intimidation. 
Lawyers for Trump have denied that he incited the riot.

While not directly addressing the argument that Trump “lit the fuse” with incendiary remarks, they focused their impeachment defense on Trump’s call for his supporters to “peacefully and patriotically” walk down to the Capitol.

Democratic impeachment managers focused on other solicitations from Trump, including, “If you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.” 

Thompson said in a press release that the lawsuit intends to hold Trump accountable and prevent a second insurrection. 

“Failure to do so will only invite this type of authoritarianism for the anti-democratic forces on the far right that are so intent on destroying our country,” Thompson said. 

He claims that that even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signed off on holding Trump accountable with litigation, quoting remarks he and other Republicans while stating their belief the Senate did not have jurisdiction to impeach a former president.

“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office… [he] didn’t get away with anything yet — yet,” McConnell said after Trump’s acquittal Saturday. “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.”

Thompson brought the suit against Trump in his personal not official capacity as he was engaging in conduct far outside of his scope of presidential duties. He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for himself and any future co-plaintiffs who were harmed in the assault, as well as attorney fees.

Sellers said he anticipates there will be a motion to dismiss the case in a couple of months, which will be denied, allowing the case to proceed to civil discovery.