WASHINGTON – The NAACP on Tuesday morning filed a federal lawsuit against former President Donald J. Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, claiming they violated a 19th-century law when they tried to prevent certification of the January 6 elections.
The civil rights organization filed a complaint on behalf of Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi. Other Democrats in Congress – including Reps Hank Johnson of Georgia and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey – are expected to join as plaintiffs in the coming weeks, according to the NAACP
The lawsuit contends that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani violated the Ku Klux Klan Act, an 1871 law that includes protections against violent conspiracies that interfered with the constitutional duties of Congress; the costume also names the Proud Boys, the far-right nationalist group and the Oath Keepers militia group. The lawsuit accuses Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani and the two groups of conspiring to incite a violent riot on Capitol Hill, in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the election.
The lawsuit is the latest legal issue for Mr. Trump: New York prosecutors are investigating his financial transactions; New York Attorney General is pursuing civil investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s company misrepresented assets for bank loans and tax benefits; and a Georgia district attorney is reviewing his electoral interference efforts there.
Jason Miller, an adviser to Mr Trump, noted in response to the lawsuit that the Senate acquitted the former president of the impeachment article for incitement to insurgency. The Senate voted 57 to 43, below the two-thirds majority required to convict.
“President Trump did not plan, produce or organize the January 6 rally on the Ellipse. President Trump did not instigate or conspire to incite violence on Capitol Hill on January 6, ”Miller said in a statement Tuesday. He added that Mr. Giuliani “does not currently represent President Trump in any matter.”
In the trial, Mr Thompson said he was forced to wear a gas mask and hide on the floor of the Chamber’s gallery for three hours while hearing “threats of physical violence against any member who was trying to approve the counting of the electoral college. “Mr. Thompson also heard a gunshot, according to the costume, which he only later learned had killed Ashli Babbitt, one of the rioters in the lobby of the Capitol.
Mr. Thompson seeks compensatory and punitive damages in the lawsuit filed in the Federal District Court in Washington. The costume does not include a specific financial amount.
Mr Thompson, 72, says he was exposed to an increased risk to his health by being subsequently forced to shelter in place in a cramped place that did not allow for social distancing. The lawsuit notes that Mr. Thompson shared a confined space with two members of Congress who tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after the attack on Capitol Hill.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Thompson said he would not have brought a lawsuit against Mr. Trump if the Senate had voted to convict him in last week’s impeachment trial.
“I feared for my life,” Mr. Thompson said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this incident. I was determined to see justice done in this situation.
He added, “It’s me, and I hope others, having our day in court to address the January 6 atrocities. “
Mr Thompson said he had already received a second dose of a Covid vaccine on January 6, so he had not quarantined himself after close contact with colleagues who tested positive. But he noted: “There were a number of members who were very concerned about being accommodated in these numbers with people refusing to wear masks.
Democratic and Republican members of Congress recently raised the possibility of Mr. Trump being held accountable in court for the riot. Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell voted for Mr. Trump’s acquittal in the impeachment trial but then appeared to encourage people to take their fight to court.
“He hasn’t done anything yet,” McConnell said at the end of the trial, noting, “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil disputes. “
Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, said the decision to seek compensatory and punitive damages was rooted in a history of tools that worked to fight white supremacy.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the Ku Klux Klan which bankrupted a chapter,” he said, referring to a 2008 judgment against a Kentucky-based Klan group that filed for bankruptcy. ordered the group to pay $ 2.5 million in damages. “It’s very similar. If we do nothing, we can be assured that these groups will continue to spread and grow in their boldness. We must stop the spread of white supremacy.
While much of the impeachment trial hinged on how the violent mob threatened former Vice President Mike Pence as well as Congressional leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, NAACP officials said that the attack was deeply rooted in racial injustice.
“At the root of this insurgency were the actions of people who challenged the voices of people of color,” said Janette McCarthy Wallace, Acting General Counsel for the NAACP. The votes of people of color were contested. “
The lawsuit, for example, accuses Giuliani of attempting to reject “the votes cast by voters in Detroit, whose population is 78% African-American.” He also says Mr. Giuliani falsely claimed there was voting fraud in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, “both of which have large African American populations.”
Joseph M. Sellers, a partner at civil rights law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, which jointly filed the case, said the lawsuit named Mr. Trump in his personal capacity because his conduct defied another branch of government to do his job do the official functions of the president.
“He was engaging in conduct which is so far removed from any legitimately legitimate scope of his presidential office,” Sellers said. “He no longer has the President’s immunity.”