WASHINGTON – Rep. Eric Swalwell, who served as a House manager in Donald Trump’s last impeachment trial, filed a lawsuit Friday against the former president, his son, lawyer and a Republican congressman whose actions he charges led to January’s insurrection.
The California Democrat’s suit, filed in federal court in Washington, alleges a conspiracy to violate civil rights, along with negligence, inciting a riot and inflicting emotional distress. It follows a similar suit filed by Rep. Bennie Thompson last month in an attempt to hold the former president accountable in some way for his actions Jan. 6, following his Senate acquittal.
Swalwell charges that Trump, his son Donald Jr., along with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, had made “false and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft, and in direct response to the Defendant’s express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol.”
The lawsuit spells out in detail how the Trumps, Giuliani and Brooks spread baseless claims of election fraud, both before and after the 2020 presidential election was declared, and charges that they helped to spin up the thousands of rioters before they stormed the Capitol. Five people died as a result of the violence on Jan. 6, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
Trump’s spokesman Jason Miller called Swalwell a “low-life” with “no credibility.”
“Now, after failing miserably with two impeachment hoaxes,” Swalwell is attacking “our greatest President with yet another witch hunt,” Miller said in a statement. “It’s a disgrace that a compromised Member of Congress like Swalwell still sits on the House Intelligence Committee.”
Brooks said the lawsuit was frivolous and “a meritless ploy.”
“I make no apologies whatsoever for fighting for accurate and honest elections," he said, adding he wore the lawsuit "like a badge of courage.”
The lawsuit, through Trump’s own words, accuses the former president of inciting the riot, using much of the same playbook used by Swalwell and others during Trump’s impeachment trial — that his lies over the election results stirred supporters into the false belief the 2020 election had been stolen, that he egged the angry mob on through his rally speech and that he did nothing when faced with the images of throngs of his supporters smashing windows at the U.S. Capitol and sending lawmakers fleeing.
“Those with knowledge claimed that during this moment of national horror, Trump was ‘delighted’ and was ‘confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was.’ Others described Trump as ‘borderline enthusiastic’ about the unfolding violence,” according to the suit.
Unlike Thompson’s lawsuit — filed against Trump, Giuliani and some far-right extremist groups whose members are alleged to have participated in the insurrection — Swalwell’s did not specify whether he was filing in his personal or official capacity, which would require additional approvals from the House and involve House attorneys.
Both lawsuits cite a federal civil rights law that was enacted to counter the Ku Klux Klan's intimidation of officials. Swalwell's attorney Philip Andonian praised Thompson’s lawsuit, filed under a Reconstruction-era law called the Ku Klux Klan Act, and said they were behind it 100%, but saw the need for this one, too.
“We see ourselves as having a different angle to this, holding Trump accountable for the incitement, the disinformation,” he said.
Presidents are historically afforded broad immunity from lawsuits for actions they take in their role as commander in chief. But the lawsuit, like the one by Thompson, was brought against Trump in his personal, not official, capacity.
Swalwell also describes in detail being trapped in the House chamber with many other members of Congress as plainclothes Capitol Police officers barricaded the doors and tried to fend off the mob at gunpoint.
“Fearing for their lives, the Plaintiff and others masked their identities as members of Congress, texted loved ones in case the worst happened, and took shelter throughout the Capitol complex,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit alleges that Brooks “conspired with the other Defendants to undermine the election results by alleging, without evidence, that the election had been rigged and by pressuring elected officials, courts, and ultimately Congress to reject the results.” It notes that he spoke at a rally supporting Trump at the Ellipse, near the White House, shortly before thousands of pro-Trump rioters made their way to the Capitol and overwhelmed police officers to shove their way inside the building.
The suit seeks unspecified damages, and Swalwell also wants a court to order all of the defendants to provide written notice to him a week before they plan to have a rally in Washington that would draw more than 50 people.
“Unable to accept defeat, Donald Trump waged an all out war on a peaceful transition of power,” Swalwell said in a statement. “He lied to his followers again and again claiming the election was stolen from them, filed a mountain of frivolous lawsuits — nearly all of which failed, tried to intimidate election officials, and finally called upon his supporters to descend on Washington D.C. to ’stop the steal.'"
Associated Press writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.