Donald Trump’s lawyers in a Friday afternoon federal court filing argued that he cannot be sued for inciting his supporters to hurt protesters because, as the president, he is immune from civil lawsuits.
The lawsuit was brought by three protesters who allege they were roughed up and ejected by Trump supporters from a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky, after Trump barked from the stage “get ’em out of here!”
The lawsuit seeks damages from two Trump supporters who confronted the protesters, as well as Trump’s presidential campaign and the president himself, since the protesters argue the Trump supporters were acting at his direction.
In Friday’s filing, the president’s lawyers contend that Trump was not ordering his supporters to rough up the protesters — or to do anything. “The Trump Defendants deny that Mr. Trump directed his statement to the crowd,” the lawyers wrote.
But their claim was undermined by a separate Friday filing from one of the Trump supporters, Alvin Bamberger, a member of the Korean War Veterans Association who was captured on video pushing the lead plaintiff, a young African-American woman named Kashiya Nwanguma.
While Bamberger’s lawyers in their filing said their client “admits only that he touched a woman,” he “denies that he assaulted that woman.”
But, Bamberger’s lawyers stressed that “to the extent that Bamberger acted, he did so in response to — and inspired by — Trump and/or the Trump Campaign’s urging to remove the protesters.”
They added that Bamberger “had no prior intention to act as he did” and “would not have acted as he did without Trump and/or the Trump Campaign’s specific urging and inspiration.”
As such, Bamberger’s lawyers argue, if there is a monetary judgment against Bamberger, Trump or his campaign should be forced to bear the cost of it.
Bamberger’s argument seems to buttress the protesters’ claim that Trump was whipping up his supporters to act against the protesters.
One of the protesters, Henry Brousseau, said in an interview that it seemed obvious from the context “that (Trump) was speaking to the crowd when he said ‘get ‘em out of here’.”
Brousseau — who alleges that he was punched in the stomach by Trump supporters after shouting “Black Lives Matter” — said Trump “was trying to egg on the crowd.”
A second Trump supporter named in Brousseau’s suit is a well-known white nationalist.
Trump’s campaign rallies were often feisty affairs interrupted by protesters who drew the ire of his supporters and were usually ushered out — sometimes roughly — by Trump’s private security force.
But the Louisville lawsuit is one of at least two winding their way through federal courts brought by protesters who allege they were roughed up by Trump supporters.
Trump’s lead lawyer in the Louisville case did not respond to a request for comment.
But in the Friday filing, he pointed out that the then-candidate also said “don’t hurt them,” when discussing the protesters, and contended that the command “get ‘em out of here” was protected by the First Amendment.
But the federal judge hearing the case in a ruling late last month rejected the Trump team’s argument that the candidate’s constitutional free speech rights protected him from the lawsuit and that he didn’t intend for his supporters to use force.
Trump’s “get ‘em out of here” comment, the judge ruled, was “stated in the imperative; it was an order, an instruction, a command.”
The judge also rejected requests to toss out the case because the protesters assumed the risk of injury by going to the rally to protest. “The doctrine of assumption of the risk was abolished in Kentucky decades ago,” he wrote.
The immunity claim is a new one in this case, but it follows other efforts by Trump’s lawyers to invoke the argument against separate civil cases stemming from allegations against Trump dating from before he was sworn in as president.
“Mr. Trump is immune from suit because he is President of the United States,” the lawyers wrote in the filing, which requests a jury trial.
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