Judge rejects effort by Donald Trump to block January 6 riot lawsuits

The order is the latest example of growing legal peril for the former US president.

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A federal judge has rejected efforts by Donald Trump to block lawsuits filed by legislators and two US capitol police officers, saying in his ruling that the former American president’s words “plausibly” led to the insurrection on January 6 2021.

US district court judge Amit Mehta said in his ruling that Mr Trump’s words during a rally before the violent storming of the US capitol were likely “words of incitement not protected by the First Amendment”.

He wrote: “Only in the most extraordinary circumstances could a court not recognise that the First Amendment protects a president’s speech.

“But the court believes this is that case.”

The order is the latest example of growing legal peril for the former US president.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in November 2020.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in November 2020.

Just hours earlier, the National Archives said records found at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort contained classified information and that it had notified the US justice department.

On Thursday, a judge in New York ruled that Mr Trump and two of his children must answer questions under oath in New York state’s civil investigation into his business practices.

Another judge ordered that his company’s financial chief should be subjected to questioning in another probe by the District of Columbia attorney general’s office.

Earlier this week, the firm that prepared Mr Trump’s annual financial statements said the documents, used to secure lucrative loans and burnish the former president’s image as a wealthy businessman, “should no longer be relied upon”.

During a planned rally on the Ellipse in Washington DC just hours before US congress was to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Joe Biden, Mr Trump told his supporters to “fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country any more”.

He said: “(We’re) going to try to and give (weak Republicans) the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country”, and then told the crowd to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue”.

Judge Mehta said Mr Trump’s speech could have directed people to break the law.

But the judge dismissed similar charges made against Mr Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr and lawyer Rudy Giuliani, saying their speech was protected by the First Amendment.

Mr Mehta has not yet ruled on another motion to dismiss from Alabama Republican representative Mo Brooks, who was also named in the suits.

The lawsuits, filed by US representative Eric Swalwell, officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby and initially by representative Bennie Thompson, argued that Mr Trump, Mr Trump Jr, Mr Giuliani and Mr Brooks made “false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the defendant’s express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the US capitol”.

Mr Thompson later dropped out of the lawsuit when he was named to lead the Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) continued in his stead.

The lawsuits cite a federal civil rights law that was enacted to counter the Ku Klux Klan’s intimidation of officials.

They spell out in detail how the Trumps, Mr Giuliani and Mr Brooks spread baseless claims of election fraud, both before and after the 2020 presidential election was declared, and charged that they helped to spin up the thousands of rioters before they stormed the US capitol.

They have all denied the allegations.

Five people died as a result of the violence on January 6, including a US capitol police officer.