Main arguments in 14th Amendment case against Donald Trump … – Hartford Courant
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The trial examining whether former President Donald Trump is qualified for Colorado’s 2024 ballot has ended — sort of.
The primary arguments wrapped up late Friday afternoon, with each side having spent the week trotting out dueling experts, congressmen and witnesses to the storming of the U.S. Capitol. At issue: Did the Jan. 6, 2021, attack rise to the level of an insurrection, and was Trump culpable enough that he’s disqualified from the ballot under the 14th Amendment?
Denver District Court Judge Sarah B. Wallace’s answer to that question is still likely weeks away. The judge has scheduled formal closing remarks for Nov. 15, with her decision to come after that. And with such high stakes, the case may work its way to the Colorado and U.S. supreme courts.
The weeklong hearing was nonetheless the first of its kind, though parallel well-backed efforts are underway elsewhere. The Colorado lawsuit was brought by a group of unaffiliated and Republican voters in the state backed by the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. State law allows voters to challenge candidates’ qualifications, making Colorado a viable proving ground for a question with national implications.
While the lawsuit aims to keep Trump off Colorado’s 2024 ballot, and the trial pitted the former president’s lawyers against the plaintiffs, the lawsuit itself seeks to compel Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, from listing the Republican frontrunner. Griswold, even though she is adamant in her opposition and conviction that Trump engaged in insurrection on Jan. 6, has taken a hands-off approach to the case and instead said she’s waiting for the judge’s direction.
The plaintiffs called witnesses that included police officers who fought back the mob on Jan. 6 and an expert in right-wing extremism who testified Trump’s calls to fight were to be taken literally, and that he didn’t meaningfully try to stop the attack. Law professor William C. Banks, who studies presidential powers and national security, noted that Trump could have deployed the National Guard to dispel the riot, as he did during Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.
“He knew that mob was dangerous,” plaintiffs’ attorney Eric Olson said during opening remarks. “He told that mob to go to the Capitol with him. Once they were there, and not sufficiently violent, he incited them (with further tweets).”
Trump’s legal team, meanwhile, pointed to statements in which the president called for peace and pointed out the widespread use of words like “fight” in politics. They called Trump supporters to testify that they read Trump’s comments as peaceful and metaphors for political pressure around the election.
One, Colorado Republican Party treasurer Tom Bjorklund, testified in his personal capacity that he was present for the Jan. 6 rally but did not enter the Capitol when it turned into a riot. He pushed the unfounded conspiracy theory that the attackers may have been Trump opponents who sought to disrupt the legal challenge to the 2020 election.
The two sides also debated over the U.S. House Jan. 6 select committee, with plaintiffs seeking to cite pieces of it as evidence while Trump’s team sought to cast it as political and biased. His campaign has regularly said this effort, and the similar challenges in other states, constitute election interference.
“None of President Trump’s speech ever called for violence. None of it ever called for insurrection,” Scott Gessler, an attorney for Trump and former Colorado secretary of state, said.
But on Friday, Timothy J. Heaphy, the lead staff investigator for the House committee, challenged that characterization on the stand: “Donald Trump said, ‘You have to fight like hell or you won’t have a country anymore.’ That was something that was stated at the Ellipse (rally). That did instigate violence.”
The Civil War-era amendment bars people who have taken an oath to support the Constitution from holding office if they later “engaged in insurrection.”
While the parties debate the events of the day and their causes, Judge Wallace is also being asked to consider more abstract pieces of the amendment, including when it applies and if it is even enforceable without congressional action or other factors. She regularly accepted evidence under stipulations that it didn’t mean she was taking it at face value.
One expert in constitutional law called by Trump’s legal team, retired professor Robert Delahunty, testified that Congress needed to take further action to make the amendment enforceable.
For Wallace’s part, she declined to be boxed in from interpreting the Constitution — historically, a key realm of the courts.
“In general, I think that’s exactly the job of the court, to interpret the Constitution,” Wallace said. “I’d love to hear from you why, in this instance, I need to say it’s too hard — (as in) ‘Congress, tell me what it means.’ “
This court case is one of several legal issues facing Trump in the lead-up to the 2024 election. Trump faces several criminal cases related to the 2020 election, as well as a civil fraud case in New York state that is ongoing, among others.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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