Riot on Capitol Hill: House Democrat sues Donald Trump under post-Civil War law for conspiracy to incite insurgency

The lawsuit, brought by Mississippi Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson in a personal capacity, is the first civil action against the former president related to the attack on the U.S. Capitol and comes days after the Senate acquitted Trump in his trial of dismissal.

If this continues, it would mean the former president and others would be subject to discovery and depositions, potentially exposing details and evidence that were not made public during the Senate impeachment trial.

Thompson points to Trump’s words and tweets in the months leading up to the insurgency to accuse Trump and Giuliani of mobilizing and preparing their supporters for an attack to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election on January 6.

The lawsuit cites a scarcely used federal law passed after the civil war intended to combat the violence of the Ku Klux Klan; it allows civil proceedings to be brought against persons who use “force, intimidation or threat” to prevent anyone from fulfilling the duties of their office.

The NAACP is supporting the lawsuit and helping represent Thompson in court.

Some of his supporters are wanted by the FBI.  This does not prevent the leader of the Oath Keepers.

“As part of this unified plan to prevent the electoral college from counting,” the lawsuit says, “the accused Fiers Boys and Oath Keepers, through their leadership, acted in concert to lead the assault on Capitol Hill while the angry mob that the accused Trump and Giuliani incited descended on the Capitol. The carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded during the Save America rally and the capture of the Capitol was neither an accident nor a coincidence. It was the planned and predictable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with justice. process required to confirm the count of votes cast to the Electoral College. “

READ: Former President Donald Trump’s Jan.6 speech

The former president and many Republicans have argued that the impeachment trial is unconstitutional because he is no longer in office. As such, Thompson takes note of the speech by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday where the Kentucky Republican appeared to be encouraging prosecution against Trump.

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“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil suits,” McConnell said after voting to acquit Trump. “And past presidents are not immune to either side’s responsibility.”

Jason Miller, a spokesperson for Trump, said the former president had neither instigated nor worked to incite riots on Capitol Hill.

“President Trump was acquitted in the last Democrats’ impeachment witch hunt, and the facts are irrefutable,” Miller said in a statement. “President Trump did not plan, produce, or organize the January 6 rally on the Ellipse. President Trump did not incite or conspire to incite violence on Capitol Hill on January 6.”

Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been briefed on the trial, a source told CNN.

Trump’s words sparked riots

Thompson’s trial links Trump’s repeated refusal to accept election results in the weeks following Nov. 3 to threats of violence against elected officials like Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, accusing Trump of endorsing the threats instead than to denounce them. The lawsuit also alleges that Trump’s refusal to directly condemn the Proud Boys in the first presidential debate in September encouraged their violent plans until January 6.

The lawsuit directly links the hour-long standoff on Capitol Hill to Trump’s rally earlier in the day when the former president told his supporters: “… if you don’t fight like hell, you don’t will have more countries. ”

READ: Democrats' lawsuit against Donald Trump for attack on U.S. Capitol

Trump also said: “You have to be strong and you have to be strong.”

Giuliani, according to the lawsuit, also angered the crowd by continuing to speak about unsubstantiated allegations of widespread electoral fraud and telling his supporters on January 6: “Let’s have a trial by fight.”

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The lawsuit accuses Trump of delaying the delivery of his speech to the crowd at the Ellipse on January 6 in order to give the Proud Boys time to get to Capitol Hill and overcome the police presence there, although he there is no evidence that Trump’s speech was delayed or that any delay was intentional.

In addition to Trump and Giuliani, the lawsuit names the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers as defendants.

This Republican senator just said that January 6 was not an `` armed insurrection ''

Several members of these far-right groups have been indicted for their involvement in the riot. The Justice Department has so far indicted more than a dozen Proud Boys for storming the Capitol and has recently brought conspiracy charges against a group of five people associated with the group. The DOJ also indicted three members of the Oath Keepers in late January, including one member, Jessica Watkins, whose lawyer told the judge last week that she believed to be following Trump’s instructions.

The trial was randomly assigned to Judge Amit Mehta, appointed by former President Barack Obama. Mehta has handled various lawsuits related to Trump’s financial records. In 2019, he ruled that financial firm Trump Mazars USA must turn the files over to Congress. He had also previously rejected a request by the then minority House Democrats who were trying to get Trump’s hotel records from the General Service Administration.

FAQ status

The legal foundations of the trial could face an uphill battle in court, as the KKK statute has not been widely used.

“It was specifically intended to provide federal civil remedies to federal agents who were prevented from performing their duties by two or more people, whether they were Federal Marshals in the post-Civil War South, federal judges in unrebuilt lower courts; or federal lawmakers, ”said Stephen Vladeck, University of Texas law professor and Supreme Court analyst.

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“It is not at all difficult to see how this provision fits with what happened on January 6 – where, obviously, two or more people conspired to prevent the joint session of Congress from fulfilling its constitutional function To certify President Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. The most difficult question is whether Trump himself can be linked to this plot, “Vladeck said.

Attorney Joseph Sellers, who represents Thompson, said the specific purpose of the statute was to provide a remedy against efforts to interfere with the duties of Congress.

“The fact that there is very little precedent [involving this section of the statute] is a reflection of the extraordinary events that gave rise to this trial, ”Sellers said.

Other members of Congress, including Democratic Representatives Hank Johnson of Georgia and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey intend to join the trial as plaintiffs, according to a statement accompanying the trial.

“While the majority of Republicans in the Senate have abdicated their responsibility to hold the president accountable, we must hold him accountable for the insurgency he so openly planned,” Thompson said in the statement. “Failure to do so will only invite this kind of authoritarianism for the anti-democratic far-right forces that are so determined to destroy our country.”

This story has been updated with additional details about the trial.

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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