WASHINGTON -- A federal judge challenged Donald Trump's claim of "absolute immunity" from allegations that he incited the violent Jan. 6 Capitol riot as his attorneys asked Monday to toss out three lawsuits by Democratic House members and police officers seeking damages for physical and emotional injuries they incurred in the assault.
Arguing alongside lawyers for co-defendants Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., Trump defense attorney Jesse Binnall asserted that any incendiary remarks before the assault by the then-president fell "dead-center" within his constitutional duty to ensure the nation's election laws were faithfully executed and a president's use of the bully pulpit to speak to the American people "freely and frankly on matters of public concern."
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta pushed back against attorneys on both sides during a nearly five-hour hearing in Washington.
Mehta said he would rule "quickly" on whether a federal jury in Washington may hear claims that the former president and others instigated and facilitated the attack, violating the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan Act that bars violent interference in Congress's constitutional duties.
The judge will also weigh whether a jury should consider whether Trump and his co-defendants are liable for injuries suffered by lawmakers and police during the deadly, hourslong breach of the Capitol by Trump supporters angered by his unfounded claims of election fraud.
Plaintiffs assert that the mob interfered with Congress' constitutional duties by force, intimidation or threat, Mehta said, adding: "That happened. The question is whether President Trump incited ... or instigated that."
Trump and his co-defendants said no, with Binnall saying the lawsuits should never have been brought in the first place.
They moved to dismiss three civil suits: one brought by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., with 10 other lawmakers; another by Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.; and one by Capitol Police officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby.
Binnall claims the lawsuits as "chock full of propaganda that are meant to achieve political rather than legal objectives."
Separately, Giuliani's defense called it "too far-fetched and outlandish" to believe the plaintiffs would successfully tie him and Trump to "a vast conspiracy to mastermind the attack on the Capitol." Attorney Joseph Sibley IV argued that Giuliani's call to Trump supporters that day for "trial by combat" was clearly hyperbolic and not literal, that he immediately condemned the riots as "shameful" and he never referred to a march on the Capitol.
Mehta acknowledged that "put Giuliani in a different position."
Plaintiffs disagreed, arguing Trump was acting not in his official capacity as president but as a private citizen when he openly supported and encouraged the rioters.
Mehta highlighted plaintiffs' claim that Trump plausibly approved rioters' actions by doing nothing for hours to stop it. That was in contrast, for example, with Trump Jr., who texted his father's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, at one point that afternoon to get Trump to condemn the violence, saying it had "gone too far."
Brooks is defending himself and argued that he cannot be sued, because he was acting as a federal employee and member of Congress when he spoke. At the rally, Brooks, the first member of Congress to declare that he would challenge the electoral college count certifying Biden's victory.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is refusing a request to be interviewed by the House select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, calling it an "unprecedented and inappropriate demand."
In a letter dated Sunday, the close ally of Trump accused the panel of playing politics.
"Your attempt to pry into the deliberative process informing a Member about legislative matters before the House is an outrageous abuse of the Select Committee's authority," Jordan wrote in the letter, which he posted to his Twitter account Sunday.
Jordan declined to comply with the Dec. 22 request to appear before the panel to discuss his communication with Trump on the day of the assault.
A spokesman for the committee said in a statement Monday that Jordan's letter "fails to address the principal bases for the Select Committee's request for a meeting, including that he worked directly with President Trump and the Trump legal team to attempt to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 presidential election."
The spokesman said the committee will respond to Jordan in more detail in the coming days. Jordan's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Information for this article was contributed by Spencer S. Hsu, Annabelle Timsit, Felicia Sonmez, Eugene Scott, Tom Hamburger and Jacqueline Alemany of The Washington Post.