Trump warned about potential civil liability over Capitol riot

"Think O.J.," an adviser explained it to Trump, according to one source.

ByJonathan Karl, John Santucci, and Katherine Faulders, ABC News KABC logo
Monday, January 11, 2021
Inside the Insurrection: NatGeo photographer documents Capitol siege
National Geographic photographer Louie Palu documents the siege inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6.

WASHINGTON -- In the wake of Wednesday's assault on the nation's Capitol, President Donald Trump has been advised he potentially could face civil liability connected to his role in encouraging supporters who went on to storm Congress, sources familiar with the conversations told ABC News.

"Think O.J.," an adviser explained it to Trump, according to one source. It was a reference to O.J. Simpson, who was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife and a friend but later faced stiff civil damages after being sued by his ex-wife's family.

Prior to Wednesday, the president and his advisers had been discussing a self-pardon -- something that would be both historic and untested in American history -- in the wake of a phone call with Trump and Georgia election officials that was made public. The sources say if the president were to self-pardon, it would only strengthen the motivation to bring civil cases against the 45th president.

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As ABC News previously reported, sources tell ABC News White House Counsel Pat Cipollone advised the president that he could face legal jeopardy for encouraging his supporters to storm the Capitol building, according to sources familiar with their discussions.

After these conversations, sources say the president grew angrier, and the entire pardon process has been described as "on hold" -- meaning others who have been lobbying the president for pardons, including his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, may not receive one.

Trump has long believed he has the power to pardon himself. In 2018, the president tweeted he had the "absolute right." Although there is some ambiguity in the law, most constitutional lawyers and experts ABC News has spoken to say a president cannot pardon him or herself, based on the founding legal principle that no person can be a judge or jury in their own case.

After Wednesday's riot, many staffers and two Cabinet officials publicly resigned, but others have quietly packed up their offices and have no intention of returning to work. This includes some West Wing officials, sources with direct knowledge tell ABC News.

The president has been described as "isolated," "miserable" and "angry," according to sources who point to the suspension of his Twitter account as a particularly sore subject.

The White House has been planning a week of programming intended to highlight what they believe are the president's achievements over the last four years, with sources adding the week would include events at the White House and at least one trip that has already been announced to the southern border wall.

As of now, the president, according to sources, is planning to leave the White House before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office.