By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice have stated that inciting imminent private violence is not part of a president’s official responsibilities, the strongest indication yet that criminal charges are being considered against former President Donald Trump.
In a case involving police officers who want to sue Trump, the federal appellate court in the District of Columbia asked the Department of Justice to weigh in on the matter.
“Such incitement of imminent private violence would not be within the outer perimeter of the Office of the President of the United States,” the DOJ wrote in a memo to the court.
Trump asserted that he can’t be sued for his role in organizing his supporters’ attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Lawmakers and Capitol Police officers have filed a lawsuit claiming that Trump incited the attack by falsely claiming in a speech that the 2020 election had been stolen and urging his supporters to march on the Capitol.
The civil division of the Department of Justice filed a 23-page brief with the court of appeals, requesting that the court allow the lawsuit to move forward.
The DOJ said Trump’s incitement of the deadly insurrection fell outside the scope of his presidential powers and therefore disqualifies any immunity argument.
The U.S. Supreme Court has previously decided that the Constitution protects presidents from being sued for their official actions.
“The District Court correctly rejected Trump’s categorical assertion ‘that whenever and wherever a President speaks on a matter of public concern he is immune from a civil suit,” the DOJ insisted.
“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.
“But that traditional function is one of public communication. It does not include incitement of imminent private violence of the sort the district court found that the plaintiff’s complaints have plausibly alleged here.”
The lawsuits allege that Trump’s speech was responsible for inciting the attack, which the DOJ said begs the question of whether it is within the scope of his presidency to update his supporters on the results of the 2020 election.
In a ruling made last year, Federal District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta allowed the lawsuits against the former president to proceed.
The judge concluded that Trump’s various communications leading up to and including January 6 amounted to a “call to action” and that he urged his supporters should “fight like hell” to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Trump’s attorneys have appealed that ruling to the D.C. Circuit. They claimed presidents have always been protected from legal action for statements made in the course of their official duties because such statements are considered “speech on matters of public concern.”
Several Democratic lawmakers and Capitol Police officers have joined forces to file a lawsuit against Trump over the attack on January 6. Other groups not involved in the appeal, such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, are also named as defendants in the lawsuits.
By its very nature, “such conduct plainly falls outside the President’s constitutional and statutory duties,” the DOJ wrote.
As such, it cannot be squared with the President’s customary role of addressing the nation on vital issues, they argued.
The President has “extraordinary power to speak to his fellow citizens and on their behalf” in his role as the nation’s leader and head of state.
“But that traditional function is one of public communication and persuasion, not incitement of imminent private violence,” the DOJ continued.
“To extend immunity to such incitement would contradict the ‘constitutional heritage and structure’ that have informed and justified the doctrine of presidential immunity.