Washington — Former President Donald Trump asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him by Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell over his actions related to the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, arguing the former president has “absolute immunity” from the suit.
In a filing with the U.S. district court in the District of Columbia, a lawyer for Mr. Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr., who is also named as a defendant, accused Swalwell of attacking the former president’s First Amendment rights and said the president is free to advocate for the appointment of certain presidential electors, just as he is entitled to push for the passage or defeat of a constitutional amendment.
“It is well recognized that rousing and controversial speeches are a key function of the presidency,” Jesse Binnall, the attorney, told the court. “That is especially true when, as is the case here, the president is advocating for or against congressional action.”
The Trump lawyer accused Swalwell, who served as a House impeachment manager in the former president’s second impeachment trial, of seeking to “entangle Mr. Trump in a conspiracy by weaving his own conspiracy theory based on political speech taken out of context and actions of independent individuals with whom Mr. Trump never had contact.” Swalwell, he claims, is “blaming his emotional infirmities” on the 45th president.
Swalwell is suing Mr. Trump, Trump Jr., GOP Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama and Rudy Giuliani, the former president’s lawyer, over the events of January 6, when a violent mob of Mr. Trump’s supporters breached the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop lawmakers from counting states’ electoral votes and reaffirming President Biden’s victory. Swalwell accused Mr. Trump of inciting the violence at the Capitol with his tweets and speech outside the White House on the morning of January 6, in violation of federal civil rights laws and D.C. law.
The former president has repeatedly raised baseless claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen and unsuccessfully asked the courts in key battleground states to overturn the results of the election.
In the filing, Mr. Trump’s lawyer claimed Swalwell is inviting the courts to adopt a new rule that would encourage political opponents to turn to judges to punish a president for speech they disapprove of.
“While Americans may disagree with the tone and language used by their political adversaries, turning courts loose to police that speech is forbidden by the First Amendment, except in the most severe circumstances,” he said.
The assault on the Capitol prompted the House to bring an impeachment charge of incitement of insurrection against Mr. Trump for his conduct in the weeks and hours leading up to the riots. The House impeached the former president for a second time in January, though the Senate acquitted him.
Mr. Trump’s lawyer argued the impeachment proceedings from Congress foreclose further action against him. Some Republicans, though, argued the courts were a more appropriate arena to hold Mr. Trump accountable for his conduct.
“A trial already occurred on Representative Swalwell’s allegations. The Senate acquitted former President Trump,” the former president’s legal team argued. “Undoubtedly, plaintiff was disappointed with that result, but it does not give him a second bite at the apple to relitigate the issues here.”
The lawsuit from Swalwell is the second filed against Mr. Trump stemming from the Capitol attack. Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and 10 other Democrats filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington alleging Mr. Trump, Giuliani and two far-right extremist groups conspired to incite the attack.
They and Swalwell accuse the former president of violating a Reconstruction-era law prohibiting two or more people from conspiring to prevent any office-holder from performing their official duties.