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Political Litigation

Donald Trump Asks Court to Pause Civil Lawsuits as Criminal Trial Date Approaches

— March 20, 2024

The former president’s legal team said that Trump’s testimony in civil claims could compromise his criminal defense strategy.

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump have asked courts to pause at least five civil lawsuits related to the January 6 riots outside the U.S. Capitol.

According to CNN, Trump’s legal team has told a Washington, D.C.-based federal court that the continuation of civil litigation could risk revealing the former president’s defense strategy for an impending criminal trial. The criminal trial, like the civil claims, also relates to Trump’s alleged liability for misconduct on January 6, 2020.

“President Trump should not be forced to waive any of his constitutional rights in this matter, nor prematurely telegraph his criminal defense strategies prior to the completion of the criminal proceedings,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in a brief submitted earlier this week to District Judge Amit Mehta.

“The only way to adequately protect against this prejudice to his legal position is to stay these proceedings with respect to President Trump until the Special Counsel’s D.C. case is resolved, as is the common practice for other defendants facing similar circumstances,” the former president’s attorneys added.

People milling around in front of the Capitol building, some carrying signs.
January 6, 2021 storming of the United States Capitol. Photo by Tyler Merbler, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 2.0

CNN notes that the people suing Trump—including Democratic members of Congress, law enforcement officers stationed at the U.S. Capitol, and the partner of a police officer who died several hours after being pepper-sprayed by a rioter—are expected to respond to Trump’s request for a stay next week.

Trump’s legal team cited similar cases involving other January 6 defendants, including Taylor Taranto and David Walls-Kaufman. Both men are being sued by the widow of Washington, D.C., police Officer Jeffrey Smith, who committed suicide shortly after the riots.

Claims against Taranto and Walls-Kaufman, adds NBC News, were paused while Walls-Kaufman awaited criminal trial.

Mehta, though, likely will not issue any decision until April, after he has received briefs from all involved parties. However, Mehta has previously indicated that he is sympathetic to Trump’s requests. Under the Fifth Amendment, the former president is guaranteed rights to silence and against self-incrimination—rights that he can invoke at criminal trial, but which could pose greater issues of liability in civil litigation.

“If President Trump is hampered by the civil litigation issues presented in this case, or worse, forced to choose between presenting his strongest defense in one case or the other, the appearance of justice could easily be damaged,” Trump’s legal team wrote. “Accordingly, it is in the public interest to allow President Trump to defend the criminal proceeding against him without the burden of this case.”


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