Appeals court allows civil lawsuits against Trump over storming of the Capitol

A US appeals court has approved civil lawsuits against former President Donald Trump over the violent storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The federal appeals court in the capital Washington on Friday rejected Trump’s argument that he enjoyed absolute immunity because of his presidential office at the time.

“A president does not spend every minute of every day carrying out official duties,” the court order said. “And if he acts outside the duties of his office, then he does not enjoy immunity from claims just because he is the president.” Trump could appeal the court decision.

The background is civil lawsuits filed by two police officers and several Democratic Party parliamentarians against Trump. They hold the then president partly responsible for the violence on January 6, 2021 and are demanding compensation.

Radical Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to prevent confirmation of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 presidential election. Shortly before the attack, the Republican Trump had called on his supporters to march to the Capitol and fight “no matter what the hell.” The elected incumbent had previously falsely claimed for weeks that he had been deprived of re-election through massive voter fraud.

Trump now argues that his comments about the 2020 election were part of his duties as president. The right-wing populist, who wants to run again in the presidential election in a year, says he enjoys immunity for all his statements during his presidency.

The federal appeals court in Washington rejected this representation on Friday. A distinction must be made between official duties of the president and actions outside the scope of his duties. The judges wrote that an incumbent president’s campaign for re-election is “not an official presidential act.” A campaign speech is also not an exercise in the official duties of a president. “He then acts as a candidate for office, not as the holder of an office.”

The US Department of Justice had already argued similarly in a statement on the case in March. It is true that a president enjoys immunity for actions taken in the exercise of his office; However, he could be sued for actions that were clearly outside his official duties. “Inciting imminent private violence” is not the job of a president, the ministry said.

The question of Trump’s possible immunity does not only arise in the civil proceedings against the ex-president over the storming of the Capitol. The 77-year-old also claims immunity in the federal criminal case against Trump over his attempts to stay in power after his election defeat in 2020.

The special investigator in charge of the case, Jack Smith, who brought charges against Trump in August, rejects this. A judge’s decision in the criminal proceedings is still pending.