Rep. Thompson files suit against Trump for Jan. 6 insurrection

By Todd Ruger
CQ-Roll Call/TNS
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) questions witnesses during a hearing on "worldwide threats to the homeland" in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Sept. 17, 2020, in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON - The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee filed a lawsuit against Donald Trump and others on Tuesday that seeks damages for the emotional distress he suffered during the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus whose long fight for civil rights has included removal of Confederate imagery from his state's flag, seeks to hold Trump personally responsible for the violent insurrection.

The lawsuit describes the role of the former president and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, as well as two right-wing extremist groups in assembling a mob that sought to prevent Thompson from discharging his official duties to approve the count of votes cast by members of the Electoral College after the 2020 presidential election.

It includes a description of Thompson’s experience that day as he feared for his life, including hearing the gunshot that killed one rioter and the risk of exposure to COVID-19 as a 72-year-old because he sheltered from the mob with two members of Congress who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“The carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded at the Save America rally and the storming of the Capitol was no accident or coincidence,” the lawsuit states. “It was the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College.”

Thompson's lawsuit says Trump is personally responsible because he “acted beyond the outer perimeter of his official duties and therefore is susceptible to suit in his personal capacity.”

Thompson filed the lawsuit under the Ku Klux Klan Act, passed in 1871 in the wake of the Civil War, which bans any conspiracy to prevent members of Congress from discharging the duties of their office.

The lawsuit also points to some of the same behavior that House impeachment managers did during a Senate trial last week, such as Trump’s false assertions of fraudulent elections, statements that did not denounce violent behavior of his supporters, and announcing a “wild” rally on the date of the joint session of Congress to finalize the election results.

The lawsuit also points to Trump’s comments at the Jan. 6 rally urging his supporters to “fight,” his lack of action to stop the attack as it unfolded over hours, and Giuliani’s call to a senator to seek to delay certification of the election results as the attack continued.

Thompson says he was in the House gallery at the time of the attack, heard pounding on the chamber door, heard rioters saying they wanted to get their hands on Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Vice President Mike Pence, was forced to don a gas mask for an extended period of time and then was evacuated to the Longworth House Office Building to shelter in a room with 200-300 lawmakers, staff and family.

Thompson “feared for his life and worried that he might never see his family again,” the lawsuit states.

And the lawsuit quotes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement on the Senate floor directly after a 57-43 vote to acquit Trump on an impeachment charge, - short of the 67 votes required to convict him - that “former presidents are not immune from being held accountable” by criminal or civil legal action.

McConnell also said Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” of Jan. 6.

The NAACP filed the lawsuit on behalf of Thompson, along with the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, based in New York.