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Impeachment may not be final word on Capitol riot for Trump

Court action could still be ahead over the former president’s influence on the insurrection.

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Donald Trump could still face legal action over his role in the Capitol riot (AP)

Donald Trump could still face legal action over his role in the Capitol riot (AP)

Donald Trump could still face legal action over his role in the Capitol riot (AP)

Donald Trump’s acquittal at his second impeachment trial may not be the final word on whether he is to blame for the deadly Capitol riot, with court action possibly ahead.

Now a private citizen, Mr Trump is stripped of his protection from legal liability that the presidency gave him. That change in status is something that even Republicans who voted on Saturday to acquit him of inciting the January 6 attack are stressing as they urge Americans to move on from impeachment.

“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run,” Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said after that vote.

He insisted the courts were a more appropriate venue to hold Mr Trump accountable than a Senate trial.

“He didn’t get away with anything yet,” Mr McConnell said. “Yet.”

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Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has stressed Donald Trump may still face consequences over his role in the riot (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has stressed Donald Trump may still face consequences over his role in the riot (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

AP/PA Images

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has stressed Donald Trump may still face consequences over his role in the riot (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The insurrection at the Capitol, in which five people died, is just one of the legal cases shadowing Mr Trump in the months after he was voted out of office.

He also faces legal exposure in Georgia over an alleged pressure campaign on state election officials, and in Manhattan over hush-money payments and business deals.

But Mr Trump’s culpability under the law for inciting the riot is by no means clear-cut.

The standard is high under court decisions reaching back 50 years. Mr Trump could also be sued by victims, though he has some constitutional protections, including if he acted while carrying out the duties of president. Those cases would come down to his intent.

Legal scholars say a proper criminal investigation takes time, and there are at least five years on the statute of limitations to bring a federal case. New evidence is emerging every day.

The legal issue is whether Mr Trump or any of the speakers at the rally near the White House that preceded the assault on the Capitol incited violence and whether they knew their words would have that effect.

Mr Trump urged the crowd on January 6 to march on the Capitol, where Congress was meeting to affirm Joe Biden’s presidential election, and said: “You’ll never take our country back with weakness.”

He even promised to go with his supporters, though he ultimately did not.

He also had spent weeks agitating supporters through his increasingly combative language and false election claims urging them to “stop the steal”.

Mr Trump’s impeachment lawyers said he did nothing illegal. Mr Trump, in a statement after the acquittal, did not admit to any wrongdoing.

Federal prosecutors have said they are looking at all angles of the assault on the Capitol and whether the violence had been incited.

Let it be known that the office of attorney general has a potential charge (against Donald Trump) that it may utiliseDistrict of Columbia attorney general Karl Racine

The attorney general for the District of Columbia, Karl Racine, has said district prosecutors are considering whether to charge Mr Trump under local law that criminalises statements that motivate people to violence.

“Let it be known that the office of attorney general has a potential charge that it may utilise,” Mr Racine told MSNBC last month. The charge would be a misdemeanour with a maximum sentence of six months in jail.

Mr Trump’s senior White House lawyer repeatedly warned Mr Trump on January 6 that he could be held liable. That message was delivered in part to prompt Mr Trump to condemn the violence that was carried out in his name and acknowledge that he would leave office on January 20, when Mr Biden was inaugurated. He did depart the White House that day.

Since then, many of those charged in the riots say they were acting directly on Mr Trump’s orders. Some offered to testify. A phone call between Mr Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy emerged during the impeachment trial in which Mr McCarthy, as rioters stormed the Capitol, begged Mr Trump to call off the mob.

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Congressman Kevin McCarth(Odessa American/AP)

Congressman Kevin McCarth(Odessa American/AP)

AP/PA Images

Congressman Kevin McCarth(Odessa American/AP)

Mr Trump replied: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

The McCarthy call is significant because it could point to Mr Trump’s intent, state of mind and knowledge of the rioters’ actions.

Elsewhere, Atlanta prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into Mr Trump’s attempts to overturn his election loss in Georgia, including a January 2 phone call in which he urged that state’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to reverse Mr Biden’s narrow victory.

And Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr is in the midst of an 18-month criminal grand jury investigation focusing in part on hush-money payments paid to women on Mr Trump’s behalf, and whether Mr Trump or his businesses manipulated the value of assets — inflating them in some cases and minimizing them in others — to gain favourable loan terms and tax benefits.

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