Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California), who also served as a House manager in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump earlier this year, has filed a civil lawsuit against the former president, alleging that he was largely responsible for inciting his base of loyalists to breach the U.S. Capitol building on January 6.
Swalwell also named Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and former lawyer Rudy Giuliani as co-defendants in the lawsuit, as both gave controversial speeches of their own in the same rally prior to the attack on the Capitol. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) is also named as a defendant, having spoken at that rally also.
Swalwell alleges in his lawsuit that Trump and his allies used repeatedly debunked lies about November’s presidential election outcome to goad his followers into intervening at the Capitol on the day lawmakers were certifying Electoral College results of the 2020 election.
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“The Defendants, in short, convinced the mob that something was occurring that — if actually true — might indeed justify violence, and then sent that mob to the Capitol with violence-laced calls for immediate action,” Swalwell’s lawsuit states.
Swalwell’s suit is the second against the former president to be filed relating to the events of January 6. Last month, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) also filed a lawsuit against Trump, purporting that he had incited his base to disrupt the proceedings of Congress.
The lawsuit cited a little-known federal law passed in 1871 that was enacted in order to respond to violence from the Ku Klux Klan at the time. The law allows civil lawsuits to commence against those who use “force, intimidation, or threat[s]” to thwart anyone from upholding the duties of their government offices.
Swalwell’s lawsuit similarly cites the 1871 law, while also alleging the defendants broke anti-terrorism laws, and that their actions caused emotional distress on members of Congress and their staff.
“In total, six people lost their lives because of the riot, 140 officers were hurt, and scores of people were left emotionally and physically injured,” the lawsuit states.
Swalwell’s lawsuit claims Trump was acting in a personal, not official, capacity when he incited his followers to go to the Capitol that day:
His words and actions in lying about massive, coordinated fraud, improperly pressuring state legislators to overturn specific state results, seeking to undo such results through largely frivolous lawsuits, and in inciting a crowd while knowing some of his supporters were willing to react to his claims with political violence, all were meant to serve his own partisan and individual aims.
Since the attack on the Capitol by his mob of loyalists, Trump has denied that his words or actions on that day were incendiary.
“If you read my speech, and many people have done it, and I’ve seen it both in the papers, in the media, on television, it’s been analyzed, and people thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said in January.
Trump told his supporters that day the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from them “by emboldened radical left Democrats” and “the fake news media.” He also encouraged his loyalists to go to the Capitol that very moment to voice their frustrations in person, stating that they would “never take back our country with weakness.”
While not voting in favor of indicting the former president in his impeachment trial last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) did say that Trump was responsible for what had happened.
“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” McConnell said following his vote. “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President.”
Polling seems to indicate that a majority of Americans agree that Trump’s words were what caused his followers to act violently. In an Economist/YouGov poll conducted last month, 55 percent of respondents said they believe Trump bears “a lot” or “some” responsibility for the events of January 6. Only 37 percent said he bore only “a little” or “none” of the responsibility for the breach of the Capitol.