Lawyers for President Donald Trump are fighting an effort to force him to testify in a lawsuit brought by protesters at a campaign rally in Kentucky last year who say they were roughed up following Trump’s call to "get ’em out of here."
In a filing Monday in federal court in Louisville, Trump’s attorneys argue that a suit brought by the protesters can be resolved without exploring the motivations for, or intentions behind, Trump’s exhortation to the crowd at the March 2016 event.
"Compulsory deposition of the sitting President of the United States must be treated as a measure of last resort. It cannot be justified unless all other possible grounds of resolving the case have been exhausted, and the deposition is absolutely necessary," the new motion from the Trump legal team argues.
Trump’s attorneys, Supreme Court litigator Michael Carvin of Jones Day and Kentucky attorney Kent Westberry of Landrum & Shouse, say there’s no plausible interpretation of Trump’s words that can be seen as urging an illegal act — particularly since he also said from the podium that day: "Don’t hurt ’em."
"When a speaker’s words do not convey an intent to bring about lawless action, the inquiry into intent is over. There is nothing to ask President Trump because his words speak for themselves. His statement ‘Get ‘em out of here’ conveys no intent to cause violence; it was merely a lawful request to remove disruptive protesters from the private political event," Trump’s lawyers wrote.
The request for a protective order to block Trump’s decision is the latest tactic Trump’s attorneys have used in an effort to stave off or shut down the suit three protesters filed about a month after the 2016 rally. They named Trump and his campaign as defendants, along with several other individuals, including an alleged white nationalist.
U.S. District Court Judge David Hale has generally rejected those efforts, ruling in March of this year against the bulk of Trump’s attempt to get the suit dismissed on First Amendment and other grounds. Trump’s team also argued in a filing earlier this year that he is immune from civil lawsuits while serving as president, notwithstanding Supreme Court precedent to the contrary.
Trump’s attorneys also argue that he wasn’t directing his comments to the crowd when he spoke of removing the protesters.
One of the individuals sued in the case has filed a counterclaim against Trump, arguing that if any damages are owed then Trump should pay them.
Trump’s legal team has asked Hale to reconsider his ruling refusing to dismiss the case. If he won’t do so, the president’s lawyer want to appeal to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the judge has not granted permission for such an appeal, which would typically have to wait until the case is resolved.
The suit is one of several Trump’s campaign is facing over alleged assaults on protesters and other activities during the 2016 race. A spending disclosure filed Saturday showed the campaign paid $538,265 to Jones Day in the second quarter of the year, up from $190,306 in the first quarter of 2017. Those figures are believed to contain the costs of fighting the protester litigation as well as legal work related to more mundane campaign-related matters.