Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, one of the country’s most respected constitutional law experts, on Monday revealed why two lawsuits filed against former President Donald Trump in Washington, DC may present his biggest legal challenges yet.
Speaking with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell about a column he wrote for the Boston Globe, Tribe examined the legal jeopardy facing Trump and identified the strategy prosecutors are using that he thinks presents Trump with the most trouble, which he explained in the article:
“Yet it is a no-frills lawsuit filed March 30 by two Capitol Police officers who stood their ground against the insurrectionists, and paid a heavy physical and psychological toll for doing so, that holds perhaps the greatest promise of making Trump pay for directing the violent mob that stormed the Capitol on his command.”
“The strength of the suit by Officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby is in its time-tested simplicity. Not relying on any act of Congress but merely invoking common-law principles buttressed by Washington, D.C., code provisions prohibiting incitement to riot and provocation of violence, their suit centers on claims that Trump directed, aided, and abetted the garden-variety torts of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Tribe’s article concluded:
“These are the kinds of tort claims pleaded every day in courts across the country, tracing their roots to the most foundational precepts of the English common law. The complaint alleges that Trump was guilty of ‘intentional, wanton and reckless conduct’ as he ‘spurred’ a violent crowd ‘already primed by his months of inflammatory rhetoric’ to cause grave damage and injury to property and persons, including the two Capitol Officers.”
In summary, the legal mechanism in place here is to argue that since Trump is Florida resident and the officers likely live in DC, Maryland or Virginia, it makes the suit a “diversity lawsuit,” allowing U.S. District Courts to make decisions in the suit because the parties are residents of multiple states.
O’Donnell noted that this could mean the number of cases using such a plan could balloon:
“And this lawsuit, this same lawsuit is available to at least about 140 Capitol Police officers who were injured that day. They could file similar lawsuits, similar claims, some of them would be assigned different dollar values by juries if they get to juries. You could have a bankrupting amount of these kinds of lawsuits being filed by just Capitol Police officers alone.”
Tribe responded on air:
“Right. Unless some of the Capitol Police officers happen to be citizens and residents of Florida, which I very much doubt. But all of the others could file suits just like this.”
Tribe concluded in the interview:
“And they all seek not only compensation, though they don’t glamorize it, but compensation for the harm, plus punitive damages to punish the president for what he did. And to deter future presidents. So these are very standard lawsuits and I can imagine that the emotional as well as legal appeal of these lawsuits to a garden variety jury will be very large. So when you combine the lawsuits that are also strong brought by members of Congress with these suits, it’s hard to see how the president will not be held accountable. And I think that is good for the future of this country.”
On Thursday, Donald Trump attempted to whitewash history. During an interview with Fox News, Trump stated that back on January 6 pro-Trump supporters who breached the Capitol building offered “zero threat” and that his supporters were not fighting with police, but instead were “hugging and kissing” officers.
Shortly after the riot, police officials and federal prosecutors stated that about 140 officers were injured.
“I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained head injuries,” Gus Papathanasiou, union chairman, said in a statement. “One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake, to name some of the injuries.”
Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick died after trying to defend the Capitol from rioters. One Capitol Police officer and one D.C. police officer who responded to the scene has died by suicide since the attack.
Trump incited the riot with his “big lie” about widespread voter fraud. He continues to claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. There is no evidence of voter fraud, but Trump and his conservative allies continue to push the falsehood.
During the Fox interview, Trump was asked if he was concerned about the US Capitol’s beefed-up security, including razor-wire fencing, which he referred to as “disgraceful” and a “political maneuver.”
“It was zero threat, right from the start, it was zero threat. Look, they went in, they shouldn’t have done it. Some of them went in, and they are hugging and kissing the police and the guards, you know, they had great relationships,” Trump stated. “A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in and they walked out.”
This latest whitewash attempt by Trump comes after the world has seen countless numbers of videos of the violence that broke out. Criminal charges have been pressed against participants, and police officers involved have shared their accounts of the violence.
been presented with reams of video evidence of the violence that broke out on January 6, criminal charges filed against participants, law enforcement official’s testimony, police officers’ accounts of the violence, and lawmakers’ descriptions of the fear they experienced that day.
Trump did appear to suggest that he believed some of the rioters should face repercussions, but he then quickly changed the subject to Antifa.
“They’re persecuting a lot of those people, and some of them should be — some things should happen to them. But when I look at Antifa in Washington, even, what they did to Washington and what they did to other locations and the destruction, and frankly, the killing and the beating up of people, and nothing happens to them whatsoever. Why aren’t they going after Antifa?” Trump stated.
“But you would say that people who commit crimes, regardless of what their political affiliations are, should be prosecuted?” Fox host Laura Ingraham interjected.
“Absolutely. What you said is exactly right,” Trump replied.
When the mob breached the Capito building the intent was to stop then Vice President Mike Pence from certifying Electoral College votes in President Joe Biden’s favor.
As the rioters breached the Capitol many of them could be heard chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” Others could be heard shouting threats toward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Hundreds of the rioters clashed with law enforcement some of them did so with various weapons. Many rioters violently clashed with Capitol police, using various weapons, as they pushed through barriers to breach the Capitol complex. In the end, the riot left 5 people dead.
Trump is the subject of two lawsuits brought by Democratic lawmakers who have accused him of stoking the riot. Trump continues to deny any responsibility for the riot.