A former House impeachment manager sued Donald J. Trump in federal court on Friday, attempting to move Congress’s case that the former president incited the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol into the justice system after his acquittal in the Senate last month.
The suit brought by Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, accuses Mr. Trump and key allies of inciting the deadly attack and conspiring with rioters to try to prevent Congress from formalizing President Biden’s election victory. And like the case laid out in the Senate trial, it meticulously traces a monthslong campaign by Mr. Trump to undermine confidence in the 2020 election and then overturn its results.
“The horrific events of January 6 were a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ unlawful actions,” asserts the suit, filed for Mr. Swalwell in Federal District Court in Washington. “As such, the defendants are responsible for the injury and destruction that followed.”
He wants the court to declare that in doing so, Mr. Trump violated federal civil rights law and terrorism and bias crime statutes in the District of Columbia and inflicted serious emotional distress — findings that could severely tarnish his legacy and political standing.
The congressman is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, but potentially more problematic for Mr. Trump and his allies would be an open-ended discovery process if the case goes forward that could turn up information about his conduct and communications that eluded impeachment prosecutors.
In addition to the former president, the suit also names as defendants his son Donald Trump Jr., his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, who led the effort to overturn Mr. Trump’s election defeat when Congress met on Jan. 6 to formalize the results. All three men joined Mr. Trump in promoting and speaking at a rally in Washington that day that Mr. Swalwell says lit the match for the violence that followed.
A majority of the Senate, including seven Republicans, voted to find Mr. Trump “guilty” based on the same factual record last month, and even Republicans who voted to acquit him, like Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, concluded that Mr. Trump was culpable for the assault. Many Republicans argued that the Senate simply lacked jurisdiction to punish a president no longer in office, and said the courts were the proper venue for those seeking to hold him accountable.
Philip Andonian, a lawyer representing the congressman, said that the lawsuit was an answer to that call.
“The fact that he seems to be made of Teflon cuts in favor of finding a way to pierce that because he hasn’t really been held fully accountable for what was one of the darkest moments in American history,” he said in an interview.
The lawsuit adds to Mr. Trump’s mounting legal woes. Prosecutors in New York have active investigations into his financial dealings, and in Georgia prosecutors are investigating his attempts to pressure election officials to reverse his loss. And another Democratic congressman, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, has already filed suit on similar grounds in recent weeks with the N.A.A.C.P.
Both Mr. Thompson’s suit and Mr. Swalwell’s rely on civil rights law tracing to the 19th century Ku Klux Klan Act, but their aims appear to differ. The earlier suit targets Mr. Trump’s association with right-wing extremist groups, naming several groups as defendants and explicitly detailing racialized hate it claims figured in the attack. Mr. Swalwell focuses more narrowly on the alleged scheme by Mr. Trump and his inner circle.
During the Senate trial, Mr. Trump’s defense lawyers flatly denied that he was responsible for the assault and made broad assertions that he was protected by the First Amendment when he urged supporters gathered on Jan. 6 to “fight like hell” to “stop the steal” underway at the Capitol.
The nine House managers argued that free speech rights had no place in a court of impeachment, but they may prove a more durable defense in a court of law. Though the suit targets them in their personal capacities, Mr. Trump may also try to dismiss the case by arguing that the statements he made around the rally were official, legally protected acts.
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