The Justice Department on Thursday said former President Donald Trump should not be entitled to immunity from lawsuits that aim to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
In a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the department said that while presidents should generally protected from having to face lawsuits related to their actions while in office, the allegations in suits against Trump for inciting violence on Jan. 6 amount to a rare exception.
“Speaking to the public on matters of public concern is a traditional function of the Presidency, and the outer perimeter of the President’s Office includes a vast realm of such speech,” the filing states. “But that traditional function is one of public communication. It does not include incitement of imminent private violence.”
The Justice Department sought several delays after they were asked by a panel of judges on the circuit court to formally take a position on Trump's claims.
However, the department's attorneys make clear in their filing that they aren't taking any position on whether Trump should be considered liable, civilly or criminally, for the assault on the Capitol as special counsel Jack Smith is in the midst of his own criminal investigation of Trump and his allies' efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton repeatedly emphasizes in the filing that the department's position declining to back Trump's claims of immunity should not be used to create any new precedent.
Trump has denied wrongdoing related to the insurrection or to the attempt to overturn the 2020 election. He rallied his supporters near the White House shortly before the Capitol was overrun in 2021 where Congress had gathered to certify his defeat to Joe Biden.
In his speech at that rally, Trump called on attendees to both "fight like hell" and march to the Capitol but to remain peaceful.
He has since been sued multiple times stemming from the Jan. 6 riot, including by lawmakers, Capitol Police officers and others who have said they suffered physical or emotional injuries that day as a result of him inciting a mob of his supporters to attack the Capitol.
The Justice Department's Thursday filing came in the appeals process for a lawsuit brought by two former Capitol Police officers, James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby, who sued Trump for damages over the physical and emotional injuries they suffered while trying to protect the Capitol on Jan. 6.
A U.S. District Court judge later consolidated their case with two other civil suits brought by 11 members of the U.S. House of Representatives seeking to hold Trump liable under a provision of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 that protects federal officers from conspiratorial acts that are meant to prevent them from executing their duties.
Trump's attorneys have repeatedly sought to have the complaints thrown out, arguing he has absolute immunity from lawsuits for actions he took while in office.
After Trump was named as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit filed last month by the longtime partner of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after Jan. 6, a spokesperson for the former president said in a statement that he had "clearly and unequivocally stated that Americans should 'peacefully and patriotically make their voices heard.'"