House impeachment manager Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., leaves at the end of the day of second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021 in Washington. (Joshua Roberts/Pool via AP)Joshua Roberts / Associated Press
WASHINGTON – A House impeachment manager and intelligence subcommittee chairman filed a federal lawsuit Friday against former president Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., claiming they should be held liable for injuries and destruction caused by their incitement of the Jan. 6 mob assault on the Capitol.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who also sits on the judiciary and homeland security committees, alleged Trump and his fellow speakers at a rally near the White House that day were directly responsible for mobilizing a crowd of tens of thousands of pro-Trump supporters to march on the Capitol and priming them for violence.
Trump’s actions before and during the assault – in which at least 800 people broke into the Capitol, attacked police and delayed Congress’s confirmation of the presidential election results – “made clear he poses a risk of inciting future political violence,” the complaint alleged.
“As a direct and foreseeable consequence of the Defendants’ false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the Defendants’ express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol,” the 65-page suit asserted. “Many participants in the attack have since revealed that they were acting on what they believed to be former president Trump’s orders in service of their country.
The lawsuit claims the four speakers violated the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan Act by conspiring to violently interfere in Congress’s constitutional duties and failing to act to stop the mob. It also accuses them of multiple counts of negligence under both federal and D.C. law, aiding and abetting, and infliction of emotional distress.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller said in a statement, “Eric Swalwell is a low-life with no credibility.” Miller then repeated allegations in an Axios report from December that an alleged Chinese spy, Christine Fang, cozied up to Swalwell from 2012 to 2015 before he was briefed by U.S. intelligence officials about their concerns and cut off ties. Miller said “after failing miserably with two impeachment hoaxes,” Swalwell is engaging on witch hunt on behalf of the Chinese.
“It’s a disgrace that a compromised Member of Congress like Swalwell still sits on the House Intelligence Committee,” Miller said.
The suit is the latest claim against Trump and top allies to assert they had a role in the storming of the Capitol through their actions that day and weeks of baseless allegations that November’s presidential election was stolen from him.
The NAACP last month sued Trump, Giuliani and two extremist groups whose members have been accused of leading the violence at the Capitol – the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers – on behalf of Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. Guiliani, Trump’s campaign and others also face defamation claims related to their groundless post-election criticism of a former U.S. election cyber security official and vote counting machine maker.
Thursday’s lawsuit paints a fuller picture of Trump’s actions before and after the event, drawing on the House impeachment manager’s case against the former president, suing under a wider theory of negligence. The suit does not focus on extremists who planned for violence but the “many more [who] were there for a political rally” before the defendants and others alleged “whipp[ed] them into a frenzy and turn[ed] them into a violent mob that participated in the attack.”
“This is an important part of holding Trump – and the other Defendants – responsible for what happened on January 6th,” said attorney Matthew Keiser, speaking for three firms representing Gomez and Swalwell, a House impeachment manager and Democratic Steering and Policy Committee co-chair.
Trump was acquitted last month in his second impeachment trial as 57 senators – seven Republicans and all 50 Democrats – voted to convict him of inciting the mob’s attack. A two-thirds majority, 67 votes, was needed for a conviction. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted for acquittal but said afterward that there was “no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible.”
Thursday’s lawsuit noted that McConnell also said Trump was not immune from civil liability for the event, which left five dead and resulted in 139 assaults on police officers. Republican Whip Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., added that Trump could be held accountable “in a court of law.”
The Democratic House members recounted how they and others were trapped in the House chamber as plainclothes officers barricaded doors and held off the mob at gunpoint, while other staff and members took shelter throughout the Capitol complex.
While hundreds of police, then Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and others “were put in mortal danger, and as the seat of American Democracy was desecrated by the insurgent mob,” the complaint contended, Trump was reported by those close to him as being “delighted,” “borderline enthusiastic,” and “confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was.”
The suit recounts how Trump, Giuliani and the others exhorted listeners at a rally near the White House before the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection, with Giuliani calling for “trial by combat” and Trump saying he would join marchers down Pennsylvania Avenue to give lawmakers “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” Trump had repeatedly promoted the rally, posting on Twitter that it “will be wild!”
He praised participants afterward, tweeting: “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
Trump’s remarks followed his “lengthy history of normalizing violence” through rhetoric and social media, the suit contended. It asserted that Trump continued in a conspiracy to undermine confidence in election results once he fell behind by alleging, without evidence, that the election had been rigged and by pressuring elected officials, courts, and Congress to reject the results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina and Michigan.
The complaint alleges that false and misleading election-related claims were given an exponential boost by Donald Trump Jr., who intentionally spread them on social media in an effort to “subvert the will of the people in the 2020 election.”
Brooks likewise echoed Trump by saying that he “lack[ed] faith this was an honest election,” that Congress could reject electoral votes of any state and “controls who becomes president” and that Trump did not lose Georgia, the suit recounts. At the Jan. 6 rally, Brooks told attendees that they were victims of a historic theft, that it was time to start “kicking a–,” and asked if they were ready perhaps to sacrifice even their lives for their country.
The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, a declaration that defendants violated the law and a requirement that they provide seven-days written notice before any future rally or public event in Washington on a day with any significant election or election certification event.