DALLAS — A judge in Florida on Monday allowed a lawsuit to move forward against President Donald Trump, ruling that he violated his constitutional duty to obey the law when he fired FBI Director James Comey and failed to protect the country from an imminent threat of terrorism.
The state’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeal panel upheld the decision by the Florida Supreme Court that a criminal case filed in April 2016 by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and the FBI against Trump had merit.
The decision was the latest twist in the saga that has engulfed the Trump presidency since he took office in January.
The president has been charged with obstruction of justice in the firing of Comey, but he has dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
A lawyer for Comey testified during the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia that the FBI director was trying to influence the FBI’s investigation into a Russian bank with the goal of getting the bank to drop a probe of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
Trump has denied the accusations.
In a lawsuit filed last year, Papadopolous alleged that Trump asked him in a February 2016 meeting to commit to an arrangement to give him immunity in exchange for information from the FBI, according to court records.
The FBI, he said, threatened to reveal details about Papadapoulos if he did not give up Papadoulous.
Papadopoulos is one of several former Trump advisers and associates who has been accused of making false statements about his work with Russian agents during the campaign and the transition.
In its ruling Monday, the appeals court panel said that the OPR and the bureau could have used a different strategy in their lawsuit against Trump, instead of filing a criminal indictment, which is considered the “strongest possible evidence of a crime.”
But the appeals panel also said the OPP and the OCR “were entitled to pursue a stronger argument in their complaint that Trump’s conduct constituted a crime” because the president “has an absolute right to protect his country from acts of terror.”
The appeals court did not rule on whether the dismissal of the lawsuit against the president was a violation of Trump’s constitutional duty of loyalty.
In the lawsuit, the DOJ said that while the OPC had probable cause to believe that Papadolous had committed crimes, the president did not have a duty to protect America from acts that would endanger the United States or the American people.
The DOJ alleged that the Trump administration had committed a “flagrant breach of the president’s duty of fidelity to the United Kingdom” and that Trump had “a duty to take action to protect our country from threats that could threaten the national security.”
In a statement issued Monday, Trump called the OBR decision “disgraceful.”
“This decision by a Florida appeals court is yet another indication that the Justice Dept. is weak on borders and crime.
It is time for them to start fighting crime and terrorism on our southern border,” Trump said.