Column: Donald J. Trump should be held liable … and then some


Former President Donald Trump

Camille Zanders, Senior Staff Reporter

Jan. 6, 2021, is a day that will forever be ingrained in American history.

Scheduled to be the day that the United States Congress would meet to certify the results of the 2021 Presidential election, a mob of over 2,000 citizens felt the need to intervene. At 1 p.m., thousands of deluded supporters of former President Donald Trump and white supremacist groups, such as The Proud Boys and The Oath Keepers, stormed The White House to riot against what they felt was a “rigged election.” Now, a year later, over 700 members of the general mob have been prosecuted for their actions. Still, the congressional committee (Jan. 6 Select Committee) has gained the most attention and debate as it will determine whether Trump is liable for the insurrection.

In Washington D.C., only an hour before the insurrection, prominent members of Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign spoke false claims regarding the election process.

U.S. Congressman from Alabama, Morris “Mo” Brooks Jr., who is also being sued, spoke to the crowd, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who is also being sued, urged the audience to have “trial by combat.”

Trump then took the stage to say, “Now it is up to Congress to confront the egregious assault on our democracy … You will never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong … something is wrong here, something is really wrong … And if you do not fight like hell, you are not going to have a country anymore.”

The civil suit filed by California Congressman Eric Stalwell against President Trump argues that Trump’s leading up to the riot incited and supported the mob’s actions. Trump’s defense relies on his right to freedom of speech and Presidential Immunity, granted by the Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871, which protects the president from being liable for civil damages incurred due to their official presidential acts. While his actions and words are undeniable, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta is faced with the question of whether Trump appeared at the infamous ‘Stop the Steal’ Rally as the official president, which would release his liability. Or, should he be seen as a campaigner, therefore leaving him at fault.

“I hope the one thing this hearing demonstrates is that this is not an easy case,” Mehta said. “I’ve struggled with a lot of these constitutional issues.”

Trump’s defense argues that because the election took place in November 2020, which marked the end of the presidential campaign season, that his appearance at the ‘Stop the Steal’ Rally could not have been as part of his campaign, but officially as President. In response, members of the prosecution pointed out that Trump’s campaign association provided up to $4.3 million worth of financial support for the ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies, along with various right-wing groups who were affiliated with the insurrection. Because of the campaign’s financial support, it would only make sense for Trump to be present as the leader of the campaign, making him liable.

“Given the campaign contributions to the events, the remarks he delivered and the lack of any legitimate role the president had in counting the ballots, this suggests this was a purely private act,” prosecutor Joseph Sellars said. “There’s no immunity for fomenting an insurrection to attack Congress. Mr. Trump dispatched a crowd that he had assembled… told them to go to the Capitol, to ‘fight like hell.’ When he saw they were engaged at the Capitol, he retweeted his incendiary remarks.”

Former President Trump should be held accountable for his financial support of the rallies, the lies spread during the rallies, his lack of action as the violence took place, and for the support of the insurrection that he later shared via social media. While freedom of speech is not a punishable crime, his public mockery of the core principles of the United States of America should be.