We don’t know whether Attorney General Merrick Garland’s DOJ will eventually indict Donald Trump on criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 attempted coup. And if indicted, we don’t know whether a jury will convict Trump.
But there are other attorneys besides Garland who most likely have been closely watching the House select committee’s hearings. These are the attorneys in multiple civil lawsuits seeking damages from Trump for his role in propagating the Big Lie of a “stolen election” and instigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
MSNBC’s Ja’han Jones, writing in The ReidOut Blog, said:
The main focus of the House Jan. 6 committee’s first two public hearings has been clear: proving then-President Donald Trump was responsible for the Capitol riot by showing he knowingly lied about so-called fraud in the 2020 election.
The audacity of Trump’s “big lie” has become clearer as we’ve learned more about what his staffers were telling him in private — that he was, justly, an election loser. And those lies could cripple Trump financially.
The burden of proof is much lower in civil lawsuits—remember what happened to O.J. Simpson—and could result in Trump having to pay millions of dollars in damages and legal expenses. He might even end up having to declare bankruptcy again. Now, that wouldn’t be as gratifying as seeing Trump behind bars, but seeing Trump financially ruined would still be somewhat satisfying.
Back in February, The Guardian wrote that there are 19 pending legal actions against Trump. Fifteen of them are civil lawsuits. The most significant and advanced pending criminal case against Trump is the one in Fulton County, Georgia, where District Attorney Fani Willis has convened a special grand jury to hear evidence into Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election results:
Most of the cases fall under three themes: financial wrongdoings that made him more money; his role in the January 6 2021 insurrection; and his alleged interference in the 2020 election. Trump has denied wrongdoing in most of these cases. He has filed motions to dismiss several of them and has filed countersuits in some cases.
There are six civil lawsuits seeking damages from Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Eleven House members are suing Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and two extremist groups, the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, for conspiring to incite the violence at the Capitol. The lawsuit was originally filed in February 2021 by Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi who later was named chairman of the House Jan. 6 select committee, and the NAACP civil rights group.
According to CNN the lawmakers each described “how they narrowly escaped the mob, and how some still have nightmares and anxiety months later.”
“As I sat in my office on January 6th with rioters roaming the hallways, I feared for my life and thought I was going to die,” Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee said in a statement at the time. “This invasion was a direct result of Donald Trump’s rhetoric and words.”
The lawsuit, backed by the NAACP, cited a rarely used federal statute passed in 1871 to combat violent acts by the Ku Klux Klan. It allows civil actions to be brought against people who use “force, intimidation, or threat” to prevent anyone from upholding the duties of their office.
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California also filed a lawsuit to hold Trump accountable for the violent insurrection at the Capitol. The San Francisco Chronicle said the lawsuit “could mean court-ordered inspection of Trump’s communications and actions leading up to, during, and after the riot, and potentially a deposition of Trump under oath.”
In February, D.C. District Judge Amit Mehta allowed Swalwell’s lawsuit to proceed in a ruling declaring that Trump was not covered by presidential immunity or free speech protections enough to dismiss the lawsuit. The lawsuit also cited the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act.
Additionally, at least four separate lawsuits have been brought by members of the Capitol Police and D.C. Metro Police against Trump for physical and emotional injuries suffered during the Jan. 6 insurrection. One of the lawsuits filed on behalf of seven Capitol Police officers by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also named Trump’s ally Roger Stone as well as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. It also cited the Ku Klux Klan Act.
The NAACP filed a lawsuit against Trump and the Republican National Committee for trying to overturn the election results in Michigan. The lawsuit argued that Trump and his campaign had threatened to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of predominantly Black voters in Detroit by pressuring local officials to refuse to certify Joe Biden as the election winner in Wayne County.
All of these lawsuits were filed before any of the House select committee’s public hearings on the Jan. 6 coup. The committee so far has introduced evidence that strengthens all of the civil lawsuits against Trump related to Jan. 6.
Monday’s hearing revealed testimony by former Attorney General William Barr, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, and other members of Trump’s inner circle who said that they had made clear to Trump in no uncertain terms that they did not agree with the idea of him saying the election was “stolen” because there was no evidence of widespread fraud. Subsequent hearings should include more evidence that as part of a multi-pronged coup plot to remain in power, Trump weaponized a violent mob to stop Vice President Mike Pence from completing the electoral vote count in Congress.
And just the first two days of the Jan. 6 panel’s public hearings could result in even more civil lawsuits against Trump. At Thursday night’s opening public hearing, Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, testified that she was knocked unconscious by the insurrectionists, teargassed, and felt like she was in a “war scene” on Jan. 6. She suffered a traumatic brain injury. Edwards was not among the Capitol Police officers who had previously filed civil lawsuits against Trump.
And then there are the election workers who faced death threats after Trump named them and spread lies about their work as he made his baseless claims of election fraud. Former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, the only Republican on the city’s election board, testified Monday that after Trump denounced him by name in a tweet, he and his family members were the target of graphic and very specific threats.
Trump also falsely accused Fulton County, Georgia, election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter of election fraud by supposedly introducing suitcases of illegal ballots. As a result, the two women were targeted with numerous racial slurs and threats of lynching. Freeman and her daughter settled a defamation lawsuit against the right-wing cable news outlet OAN, but still have a defamation case pending against Giuliani.
And Trump could face even more legal complications after it was revealed during Monday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing that he raised more than $250 million off of his “stolen election” claims in the two months after Election Day for an “election defense fund” that did not actually exist.
Instead, the committee found that some of the money was funneled to Trump’s business properties as well as Trump’s own Save America political action committee. Kimberly Guilfoyle, Don Jr.’s girlfriend, reportedly received $60,000 for a two-minute speech at the Jan. 6 rally outside the White House.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James tweeted Monday night that she found the new details revealed at the committee’s hearing to be “disturbing.”
James would have jurisdiction to open an investigation into fraud involving campaign donations on behalf of defrauded donors or on the basis that funds were passed through New York-based banks, Business Insider reported.
Before James took office, a lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General’s office resulted in a $25 million settlement for victims of the fraudulent Trump University. Another lawsuit forced the dissolution of the Trump Foundation after the New York AG’s office detailed “a shocking pattern of illegality” that amounted to the purported charity “functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”
So what’s the bottom line? Regardless of what AG Garland decides about criminal charges, Trump is likely to be entangled in costly legal proceedings for years to come. The Jan. 6 committee might never depose Trump, but the former president has already given depositions in several civil lawsuits. These include the Trump University lawsuit and another lawsuit brought by a group of demonstrators who said Trump’s security guard assaulted them during a 2015 demonstration outside Trump Tower.
On Tuesday, New York’s highest court cleared the way for Trump and his two eldest children, Ivanka and Don Jr., to be deposed next month in James’ ongoing civil investigation into Trump’s business practices. The question is whether Trump and his organization falsely valued multiple assets for economic benefit.
Top law firms are reluctant to represent Trump out of concern for their reputation and whether they will get paid. Among the lawyers recently used by Trump is Alina Habba, who runs a boutique law firm based in Bedminster, New Jersey, near Trump’s golf resort.
So as the Jan. 6 committee reveals new evidence against Trump, he can expect even more lawsuits, mounting legal fees, depositions, and verdicts resulting in millions of dollars in damages. As Jones concluded on The ReidOut Blog:
We’re still early in the Jan. 6 committee hearings, but one thing seems abundantly clear: Trump needn’t only worry about his exposure to criminal charges. Civil cases stemming from his election defeat could devastate him, as well.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.