One of America’s foremost constitutional law experts revealed why two lawsuits filed in Washington, DC may present the biggest legal threat facing former President Donald Trump.
Harvard Law Prof. Laurence Tribe, who has argued three-dozen cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, was interviewed Monday evening by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.
O’Donnell questioned the constitutional law expert about a new column he wrote for the Boston Globe. In it, Tribe examined all of the legal jeopardy facing the former president and identified the legal strategy he thinks offers Trump the most peril.
“Yet it is a no-frills lawsuit filed March 30 by two Capitol Police officers who stood their ground against the insurrectionists, and paid a heavy physical and psychological toll for doing so, that holds perhaps the greatest promise of making Trump pay for directing the violent mob that stormed the Capitol on his command,” Tribe wrote.
“The strength of the suit by Officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby is in its time-tested simplicity. Not relying on any act of Congress but merely invoking common-law principles buttressed by Washington, D.C., code provisions prohibiting incitement to riot and provocation of violence, their suit centers on claims that Trump directed, aided, and abetted the garden-variety torts of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” he explained. “These are the kinds of tort claims pleaded every day in courts across the country, tracing their roots to the most foundational precepts of the English common law. The complaint alleges that Trump was guilty of ‘intentional, wanton and reckless conduct’ as he ‘spurred’ a violent crowd ‘already primed by his months of inflammatory rhetoric’ to cause grave damage and injury to property and persons, including the two Capitol Officers.”
The legal mechanism is that since Trump is a resident of Florida, while the officers likely live in Washington, DC, Maryland or Virginia, it becomes a “diversity lawsuit” — which allows U.S. District Courts to decide questions of state laws because the parties are residents of different states.
MSNBC’s O’Donnell noted how quickly the number of cases using such a legal strategy could mushroom.
“And this lawsuit, this same lawsuit is available to at least about 140 Capitol Police officers who were injured that day,” O’Donnell noted. “They could file similar lawsuits, similar claims, some of them would be assigned different dollar values by juries if they get to juries. You could have a bankrupting amount of these kinds of lawsuits being filed by just Capitol Police officers alone.”
“Right,” Tribe replied. “Unless some of the Capitol Police officers happen to be citizens and residents of Florida, which I very much doubt. But all of the others could file suits just like this.”
“And they all seek not only compensation, though they don’t glamorize it, but compensation for the harm, plus punitive damages to punish the president for what he did,” he continued. “And to deter future presidents. So these are very standard lawsuits and I can imagine that the emotional as well as legal appeal of these lawsuits to a garden variety jury will be very large. So when you combine the lawsuits that are also strong brought by members of Congress with these suits, it’s hard to see how the president will not be held accountable.”
“And I think that is good for the future of this country,” Tribe added.