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Congressman, NAACP sue Trump and Giuliani over Capitol riot

The lawsuit accuses the former president of conspiring with two extremist groups to block the Electoral College vote count.
President Trump Holds A News Conference In White House Briefing Room
Rudy Giuliani and President Donald Trump at a news conference at the White House on Sept. 27, 2020.Joshua Roberts / Getty Images file

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and the NAACP filed a lawsuit Tuesday against former President Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, accusing them of conspiring with two extremist groups to block the presidential vote count by storming the U.S. Capitol.

The lawsuit, the first over the Capitol riot to name Trump, said the attack was "the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College."

Jason Miller, a Trump adviser, said in response: "President Trump did not plan, produce or organize the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse. President Trump did not incite or conspire to incite any violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6."

“Mayor Giuliani is not currently representing President Trump in any legal matters," he added.

Thompson and the NAACP said Trump, Giuliani, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers shared a common goal "of employing intimidation, harassment, and threats" to stop the vote count. The riot was "a direct, intended, and foreseeable result" of the conspiracy, it said.

Their suit invoked the Civil Rights Act of 1871, commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan act, which allows lawsuits against government officials for claims that they conspired to violate civil rights. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington by a law firm specializing in such cases, Cohen, Millstein, Sellers & Toll.

Their complaint included many of the claims made against Trump by the House managers during the Senate impeachment trial and incorporated allegations made by the FBI in court documents accompanying criminal charges against members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

By repeatedly claiming that the election was stolen, Trump and Giuliani mobilized supporters and supported armed protesters, rejecting pleas to cool down the rhetoric, the suit said. At the Jan. 6 rally near the White House, the two "began stoking the crowd's anger and urging them to take action to forcibly seize control of the process for counting and approving the Electoral College ballots."

Thompson said in a Tuesday interview with MSNBC that his team brought the suit to try and similar violence in future elections.

"If the Trump administration's philosophy of engagement like what happened on Jan. 6 becomes the standard, then every election you disagree with, you just go into the Capitol and tear it up," he said.

"In America, we settle our differences at the ballot box," he added. "We don't have coups. We don't have riots. We don't have anything like what occurred Jan. 6. We have to have some semblance of order if our government is to remain strong."

The lawsuit also quoted extensively from remarks Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made after the Senate voted to acquit Trump on Saturday, including his statement that "there is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day."

The suit asks a judge to rule that the actions of the defendants violated federal law and seeks unspecified monetary damages.

"Have they alleged a conspiracy between everyone? It's a close call," said Danny Cevallos, a Philadelphia-based lawyer and MSNBC legal analyst. He said courts have ruled that a conspiracy requires proof of acting in concert, with an agreement and some communication.

"There's no evidence of an actual meeting between, say, Trump and the Proud Boys. But there rarely is 'smoking gun' evidence of a conspiracy." The back-and-forth of their messages on social media, he said, "just might be" enough communication to establish a conspiracy.

Former presidents are immune from lawsuits over their official actions while in office, but they can be sued over conduct that was not part of their duties.

The defendants will likely take the next legal step by filing a motion to dismiss the case. If the lawsuit survives that initial move, the plaintiffs would begin to seek evidence through the discovery process.

"This is not America, this is not our democracy," Thompson said. "We can't let this kind of riotous activity go on in any form."