A White House aide’s bombshell testimony on Tuesday about then-President Donald Trump’s actions and statements on Jan. 6, 2021, could give a major boost to a series of civil lawsuits against Trump over his liability for the violence that broke out that day.
Trump faces at least six civil suits over Jan. 6 that could gain traction from testimony by the aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, that Trump was told many of his supporters had weapons and that he urged they be allowed through metal detectors anyway.
Hutchinson told the House Jan. 6 select committee that prior to his speech at the Ellipse that day, Trump was mad that the area closest to the stage wasn’t full. Aides told him that was because some of his supporters were choosing not to proceed through Secret Service-staffed magnetometers because they didn’t want to have to give up weapons they had.
“Take the f-ing mags away,” Trump reportedly said. “They’re not here to hurt me.”
A lawyer pressing a suit against Trump and others on behalf of 10 Democratic House members, Joseph Sellers, said the testimony could bolster their case because it supports the idea that Trump was aware violence was likely when he urged his backers to march to the Capitol.
“The testimony that came today I think was very powerful confirmation that Trump knew and expected the crowd that was assembled was going to engage in violent action directed at the Capitol with the intention of interfering with the ability to ratify the results of the election,” Sellers said in an interview.
The new information also seems to dovetail with U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta’s explanation of why he was turning down Trump’s bid to dismiss three of the suits. Mehta said it was plausible Trump countenanced the violence on Jan. 6 through a combination of his public exhortation to the crowd to march to the Capitol and his later resistance to issuing a statement calling on his supporters to retreat.
Sellers said the reported exchanges with Trump about weapons in the crowd were “highly relevant” to the civil suits and reinforced other indications that Trump was intent on using violence and threats to intimidate members of Congress.
“This evidence goes a good deal towards confirming that that was the purpose of Trump’s actions,” Sellers added.
A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a message seeking comment for this article.
Trump’s strongest defense to the suits could be his claim that he was acting in his official capacity as president during his speech on Jan. 6 and related activities. His attorneys have claimed that he’s entitled to absolute immunity in the cases as a result.
Mehta rejected that argument, but Trump has appealed his decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Arguments on the appeal are expected in the fall, but if either side tries to take the issue to the Supreme Court, it could be more than a year before the cases move into a fact-finding phase, if they make it that far.
Hutchinson’s testimony, along with that of witnesses at earlier House Jan. 6 hearings, has led to new calls on Attorney General Merrick Garland to file criminal charges against Trump. However, that sort of prosecution faces a series of potential hurdles not present in the civil cases.
“The Justice Department has to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a substantially higher burden than in the civil suits,” where Trump’s liability only has to be proven to be more likely than not.