The Jan. 6 committee meets to consider Trump criminal referrals

WASHINGTON — The House Jan. 6 committee voted Monday to recommend the Justice Department pursue a batch of criminal charges against former President Donald Trump for his role in an effort to overturn the 2020 election and the fomenting of a deadly mob at the Capitol.

The select committee also took aim at Trump’s top allies — on and off Capitol Hill — who worked with the 45th president to block certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory and illegitimately keep Trump in power.

“We understand the gravity of each and every referral we are making today, just as we understand the magnitude of the crime against democracy that we describe in our report,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who led the Jan. 6 subcommittee that examined referrals. “But we have gone where the facts and the law lead us, and inescapably they lead us here.” 

The Jan. 6 panel also issued a criminal referral to the Department of Justice for conservative attorney John Eastman, who the committee says was the architect of the scheme to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject states’ electoral votes on Jan. 6 and have fake electors submitted to the Congress instead. 

Raskin said there may be others worthy of prosecution and there may be other statutes that Trump violated, noting the Justice Department will be able to form “a far more complete picture” through its own ongoing investigation.

“This committee is nearing the end of its work. But as a country, we remain in strange and uncharted waters. We’ve never had a President of the United States stir up a violent attempt to block the transfer of power,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “If we are to survive as a nation of laws and democracy, this can never happen again.”

This marks the first time in history that a congressional committee has recommended that DOJ launch a criminal investigation into a former American president.

The Jan. 6 committee is urging DOJ to consider a number of charges against Trump, including conspiracy to defraud the federal government; obstruction of an official proceeding, in this case Congress’ certification of electoral votes; conspiracy to make a false statement; and inciting or assisting those in an insurrection.

The criminal referrals do not carry any legal weight but represent a symbolic rebuke of Trump, who remains the most influential Republican in the country and has launched another bid for president in 2024.

Jack Smith, the independent special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, is already investigating Trump on numerous fronts, including for his role in the Jan. 6 riot.

The committee used its final hearing to summarize the key investigatory threads from its nine previous hearings and to stitch them together into a case against Trump.

“At the heart of our republic is the guarantee of the peaceful transfer of power… Every President in our history has accepted this peaceful transfer of power — except one,” the committee’s co-Chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said of Trump.

Cheney said that “among the most shameful” findings of the committee was that Trump sat in the White House watching the violence unfold on TV on Jan. 6, but did nothing, even as advisors and allies begged him to call off the rioters.

“This was an utter moral failure,” Cheney said of Trump’s inaction. “No man who would behave that way, at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again. He is unfit for any office.”

In their final meeting, committee members summarized key findings of their investigation, which were first laid out in nine high-profile televised hearings over months, beginning in June.

Witnesses, most of them Republicans, testified to the Jan. 6 panel that Trump and his inner circle had furiously worked to sow doubt about Joe Biden’s legitimate election victory; launched a multi-pronged campaign to pressure state officials, senior Justice Department officials and Vice President Mike Pence to help overturn the election; directed a mob of thousands of his supporters to march on the Capitol to disrupt lawmakers from certifying the results of the election; and refused to call off his supporters as they brutally assaulted police officers and stormed the Capitol building.

During one of the panel’s summer hearings, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Trump had been informed some of his supporters were armed with guns when he directed the angry mob toward the Capitol that day.    

Trump recently took to his Truth Social platform to slam the Jan. 6 investigators as “corrupt cowards who hate this country.” The House impeached him for his role in the attack but he was acquitted by the Senate. He’s now running for president again in 2024.

The report represents the culmination of an 18-month congressional investigation that included more than 100 subpoenas, interviews with more than 1,200 witnesses and the collection of hundreds of thousands of documents. Most transcripts from those depositions and voluntary interviews, as well as other written and video evidence, will also be shared with the public.

“They conducted the business with the seriousness it deserves, the fact that it’s about our national security, it’s about our democracy,” said outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was targeted during the attack and who created the Jan. 6 committee.

“They did so in ways that I think was done with dignity, and with a factual basis, and in a totally nonpartisan way.”

Like past reports on the John F. Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 terrorist attack, the Jan. 6 report will be zipped off to numerous book publishers and is expected to become an instant best seller.

But Chair Thompson said his report will be different in one significant way: The committee first will release it digitally, which will allow the panel to link to evidence that can provide the public with greater context.

“I think what we present to the public is important. That’s why we put a digital version to the report to add more direction and flavor to the public’s understanding of what all we looked at,” Thompson told reporters. “So whereas other reports have just been a bunch of pages, we think the digital part will add another dimension to it.”

Thompson also spoke directly to the American people, saying they will now decide on accountability for Trump’s actions as he seeks the White House once again.

“The future of our democracy rests in your hands,” the Jan. 6 Committee chairman said during the hearing. “It’s up to the people of this country to decide who deserves the public trust. Who will put fidelity to the constitution and democracy above all else. Who will abide by the rule of law, no matter the outcome.”

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