WASHINGTON — Donald Trump on Wednesday defended the domestic terrorists who assaulted the Capitol on his behalf on Jan. 6 as he announced federal lawsuits against social media companies — lawsuits that could make him testify under oath about his actions that day.
“We’re going to hold big tech very accountable,” Trump said from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course where he is spending the summer. “It will be a pivotal battle in the defense of the First Amendment.”
Asked what he did to defuse the mob attack on Jan. 6, the day that triggered his social media banishment, Trump instead complained about how harshly his rioters were being treated by authorities.
“It was an unfortunate event. I say, though, however, people are being treated unbelievably unfairly.” He then added, falsely: “There were no guns in the Capitol, except for the gun that shot Ashli Babbit. ... There was no reason for that.”
Babbit was the woman fatally shot by Capitol Police as she climbed through a broken window into an anteroom from where House members were being evacuated. And FBI investigations have determined that a number of the insurrections had, in fact, brought guns into the Capitol.
Trump added that the lawsuits, filed in the Southern District of Florida in Miami, could end up with punitive damages totaling in the “trillions” of dollars.
Legal experts predict that his lawsuits will end quickly, as the private social media companies have the right to allow or disallow whomever they want on their platforms. After years of lying about all manner of topics, Trump was finally thrown off of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube after inciting the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol in his last-ditch attempt to hang onto power despite losing last November’s election.
“The First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press Clauses, far from giving Trump any rights vis-a-vis Facebook or Twitter, actually give those companies the right to expel any user they wish,” said Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard.
But if, somehow, the lawsuits are allowed to proceed, Trump would almost certainly have to provide depositions under oath, forcing him for the first time to answer questions about his actions and inactions on Jan. 6.
In theory, that should make Trump’s criminal lawyers uneasy, said Danya Perry, a former federal prosecutor in New York.
“You’d think so, though, these are likely the same lawyers who let him go and make all those admissions at his rally,” she said, referring to Trump’s Saturday acknowledgment of the tax-free payments his company was making to a top employee for which both were indicted last week. “So you have to wonder about the quality of the advice he’s getting.”
On Jan. 6, some of Trump’s White House aides started urging him to denounce the violence and to tell his supporters to stand down as soon as they started assaulting police officers defending the Capitol building and forcing their way inside. But Trump did nothing for hours, and instead posted a tweet within minutes of the initial breach attacking his own vice president, claiming Mike Pence “didn’t have the courage” to reject Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory and award Trump a second term.
When he finally did release a video telling his followers to leave the Capitol, Trump repeated the lies about the election that had incited the attack in the first place: “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it.”
“We love you. You’re very special,” he also told the mob.
Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington did not respond to HuffPost’s queries about Trump’s readiness to testify under oath. Facebook and Twitter declined to comment, and Google, which owns YouTube, did not respond to a query.
Trump spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election after he had lost, starting his lies in the predawn hours of Nov. 4 with claims that he had really won in a “landslide” and that his victory was being “stolen” from him.
Those falsehoods continued through a long string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states. After the Electoral College finally voted on Dec. 14, making Democrat Joe Biden’s win official, Trump began urging his followers to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to intimidate his own vice president and members of Congress into overturning the election results and installing Trump as president for another term.
The mob Trump incited attempted to do just that as it stormed the Capitol. His supporters even chanted “Hang Mike Pence” after Pence refused to comply with Trump’s demands.
A police officer died after being assaulted during the insurrection, and two others took their own lives soon afterward. Four Trump supporters also died during the attack, among them Babbit.