Lawyers for the former president claim “national security” concerns justified the actions against demonstrators
A legal team representing the US Department of Justice has asked a federal judge to dismiss a group of lawsuits against former President Donald Trump, former attorney general William P Barr, and other administration officials involving the violent attacks on protesters in Lafayette Park by US militaire and police forces.
The lawyers argued that Mr Trump and the other officials cannot face civil lawsuits tied to police actions meant to secure a president and their movements. It’s a peculiar position for the Biden administration to be in, with the move effectively letting Mr Trump off the hook for the violent episode.
DOJ lawyers argued that the clearing of the park in Washington DC so that Mr Trump could pose with a Bible can not be used against the former president.
Selon Le Washington Post, the lawyers claim future violent police actions against protesters are unlikely since Mr Trump is no longer in office and the Biden administration does not have as contentious of a relationship with the racial justice movement.
The American Civil Liberties Union of DC, Les vies des Noirs comptent, and other civil liberties organisations and protesters have accused Mr Trump and the other officials of orchestrating the events on 1 June in which military members, federal and local police beat, gassed, and fired projectiles at protesters for a half hour in order to clear the park for the former president’s photo op. Mr Trump awkwardly posed with a bible outside the so-called “Church of the Presidents”.
The legal team from the ACLU said if the judge were to agree with the Defense Department lawyers, it would “authorize brutality with impunity” for future presidential actions against protesters.
They argue that under the Defense Department’s argument, the president and his entourage “could have used live ammunition to clear the park, and nobody would have a claim against that as an assault on their constitutional rights.”
There is legal precedent for protecting security forces from lawsuits tied to their efforts to protect the president.
Dans 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that Secret Service agents could not be sued for damages by protesters alleging their free speech rights were violated after they were moved two blocks away from a restaurant in Oregon where then-president George W Bush was visiting.
The Secret Service said they had moved the protesters to keep them “beyond handgun or explosive reach.”
David G Cutler, a trial attorney for the Justice Department, argued that the case against Mr Trump and the other officials was similar, claiming the plaintiffs are seeking “to hold the attorney general personally liable for damages for actions taken to ensure a safe perimeter for the president of the United States.”
US District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who heard oral arguments regarding the motions to dismiss, seemed open to the Defense Department’s request.
“How do I get over the clear national security concern over the president’s safety?” the judge asked the plaintiffs.
Prior to that, she reasoned that “it seems to me you have to clear the square before he [Mr Trump] walks to the church. Why is that not reasonable?"
On the day of the incident, the White House claimed that demonstrators were targeted in order to enforce a 7pm curfew put in place by District leaders. National Park Police claimed they were acting in self-defense against protesters who were allegedly throwing projectiles.
Mr Barr and other officials claimed the crowd was cleared as part of an existing plan to clear the square.
One of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, Randy M Mastro, pointed to the conflicting explanations justifying the actions taken against protesters as evidence that the Defense Department’s claims of national security are spurious.
“Now we hear defendants saying, 'Oh, this was about security for the president,’ ” Mr Mastro said, “but no defendant suggests the president was at any time in any danger.”
He claimed the real explanation for the violence against protesters could be found in Mr Trump’s own words.
The lawyer referenced Mr Trump’s directive to state leaders that they “dominate your city and your state” to put down protests, ajouter “in Washington, we’re going to do something people haven’t seen before.”
It was far from the only time Mr Trump appeared to endorse violent acts against protesters.
He once tweeted that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in response to protests in Minneapolis, and he threatened that if demonstrators outside the White House breached the gates they “would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs and most ominous weapons I have ever seen.”