A US federal appeals court ruled Friday that former president Donald Trump can be sued over the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol that saw his supporters attempt to thwart certification of his election loss to Joe Biden.
Trump could now face civil action over the violent clashes which saw a mob overrun law enforcement at the nerve center of American democracy. More than 1,200 people have been arrested over the melee.
Two Capitol police officers along with several Democratic lawmakers sued Trump in 2021, alleging that he may have incited violence in his public comments to supporters before they descended on Capitol Hill.
Trump’s legal team had argued that, as president, he had immunity for his actions, including comments telling his supporters to “fight like hell” as Congress prepared to certify his election defeat.
“It is not that President Trump could not establish his entitlement to immunity… it is that he has not done so,” said the ruling by a three-judge panel on the US Court of Appeals in Washington.
“When a first-term president opts to seek a second term, his campaign to win reelection is not an official presidential act,” it said.
“When a sitting president running for a second term… speaks at a campaign rally funded and organized by his reelection campaign committee, he is not carrying out the official duties of the presidency. He is acting as office-seeker, not office-holder.”
Trump “recognized that he engaged in his campaign to win reelection — including his post-election efforts to alter the declared results in his favor — in his personal capacity as presidential candidate, not in his official capacity as sitting president,” it said.
The Trump campaign did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The 77-year-old Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, is to go on trial in Washington in March on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the November 2020 election won by Biden.
Trump seemingly knew he lost the election — his advisors told him so and his legal challenges went nowhere — but continued to insist it was “stolen” by his Democratic rival.
He pressured election officials in Georgia to “find” the votes he needed to win and tried to strongarm then vice president Mike Pence into not certifying the election results at the January 6 meeting of Congress.
After his fiery speech near the White House, Trump then watched on television for hours as his loyal backers violently attacked the Capitol in a bid to block congressional certification of Biden’s victory.
Trump was impeached by the House for the January 6 insurrection but acquitted by the Senate.
He has been indicted for racketeering in Georgia on accusations that he tried to overturn the 2020 election results in the southern state.
He additionally faces federal charges for alleged mishandling top-secret documents after he left the White House.