Jan. 6 Panel Refers Trump to US Justice Dept. for Possible Criminal Charges

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by Niall Stanage

THE HILL

The House select committee on Jan. 6 delivered its final big public moment on Monday, with a meeting outlining its conclusions and recapping some of its most important revelations, the biggest being four historic criminal accusations against former President Donald Trump.

The committee had been set up in June 2021, less than six months after one of the darkest days in modern American history. It came into existence amid opposition from GOP leadership. Only two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — both strong critics of former President Trump — took seats on the panel.

But the duo gave the committee at least some semblance of bipartisanship. The public hearings that began in June this year attracted big TV audiences and produced a blizzard of headlines.

Here are the main takeaways from the committee’s Monday event.

The panel accused Trump of four crimes

The big question that had hung over the committee’s work — would it formally assert that Trump should be criminally prosecuted? — was answered with an emphatic yes.

The committee in the end decided to make criminal referrals of Trump to the Department of Justice on four separate charges.

They are: obstruction of an official proceeding; conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to make a false statement; and inciting, assisting or giving comfort to an insurrection.

Insurrectionists loyal to Donald Trump rioted at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Photograph: José Luis Magaña/AP

The referrals were laid out from the dais by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

Referring to the fourth charge, pertaining to insurrection, Raskin said: “It is a grave federal offense, anchored in the Constitution itself, which … uses participation in insurrection by office holders as automatic grounds for disqualification from ever holding public office again, at the federal or state level.”

The implication for Trump, already a declared candidate for the presidency in 2024, could hardly be clearer.

It bears emphasizing that criminal referrals carry no legal force and do not obligate Attorney General Merrick Garland to indict Trump on any such charges.

Furthermore, the Justice Department has already been conducting its own investigation — an effort that is now helmed by special counsel Jack Smith.

Still, Monday marks the first time in American history that a congressional panel has criminally referred a former president. That, in itself, ups the momentum behind the idea of criminal charges against Trump.

“I’m convinced the Justice Department will charge former President Trump,” committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told CNN. “No one, including a former president, is above the law.”

The panel, mindful of the drama of the moment, left the approval of the referrals to the final minutes of its hearing.

Those referrals were unanimously approved, with each member separately announcing her or his assent.

The committee adjourned immediately afterward.

The panel has Kevin McCarthy and three other GOP House members in its sights

The panel’s decision to refer Trump for possible prosecution was not, in the end, a big surprise. Sources close to the committee had telegraphed such a move beforehand.

More startling was a separate but related decision to ask the House Ethics Committee to investigate four Republican members of Congress.

The members in the committee’s sights include Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the current House minority leader who aims to become Speaker when the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.

The other members are Trump uber-loyalists: Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.).

At issue was the refusal of these members to cooperate with the committee even when subpoenaed to do so.

A lengthy document sent by the committee to the media included the accusation that the quartet had shown “willful noncompliance” that the panel contended “violates multiple standards of conduct and subjects them to discipline.”

Ultimately, however, serious action from the Ethics Committee seems unlikely. The committee’s membership is always divided evenly between the two major parties. But its chair comes from the party that holds the House majority.

Current Chair Susan Wild (D-Pa.) will therefore give up her gavel come January. It seems highly implausible that a GOP-led panel will investigate four Republicans, including the man who will more likely than not be Speaker by then.

A reminder of the panel’s most dramatic moments

The hearing had another purpose beyond referrals. It acted as a platform to sum up the panel’s work and refresh the public’s memory of its earlier “greatest hits.”

Monday’s meeting was relatively brief — under 100 minutes in total — but offered an array of video clips from earlier hearings.

That meant a fresh reminder to the public about Trump’s call to officials in Georgia seeking to overturn the election results in that state; mother-and-daughter election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss detailing the harassment they faced; former Attorney General William Barr calling Trump’s claims of election fraud “bullshit”; and Cassidy Hutchinson’s recollection of then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows allegedly saying Trump believed Vice President Mike Pence deserved the death threats coming his way on Jan. 6.

Those moments — and there were plenty of others — were dramatic enough when they first emerged. Played in quick succession, as they were on Monday, they had a renewed and cumulative force.

A surprise Hope Hicks cameo — with new evidence

Monday’s meeting had one important new element — video testimony from Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director and longtime Trump confidant.

The footage from Hicks provided two compelling moments.

One came when she mentioned she had become concerned about damage to Trump’s legacy, apparently amid his false claims of election fraud.

But, she testified, in response Trump said “something along the lines of, ‘Nobody will care about my legacy if I lose. So that won’t matter. The only thing that matters is winning.’”

In a separate clip, Hicks said that she had told White House lawyer Eric Herschmann in advance of Jan. 6 that she believed it was “important that the president put out some kind of message in advance” encouraging protesters to be peaceful.

She said that Herschmann replied that he had delivered a similar message to Trump — “and that he had refused.”

Those details may not be make-or-break moments when it comes to possible criminal prosecutions, but they added new texture to a grim picture — and new evidence about Trump’s intentions.

But what’s the bottom line?

Several committee members have emphasized that they believe themselves to be working in part for history’s sake.

Providing the fullest possible record of the events around Jan. 6, they suggested, was more important than any partisan political gain.

The evidence of immediate political impact is indeed scarce.

Trump’s poll ratings moved only very slightly during the earlier, more dramatic hearings — and there is no reason to suppose they will shift more dramatically now.

Cheney was defeated in a primary landslide by a pro-Trump challenger. Kinzinger opted to retire from Congress. It’s possible to argue the panel’s work fed into voters’ concerns about GOP extremism in the midterm elections, but the line of causation seems shaky at best.

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Trump, predictably, has blasted back at the panel. He referred to its members as “Thugs and Scoundrels” in a Sunday post on Truth Social and called on “Republicans and Patriots all over the land” to oppose them.

But even if the politics don’t change, the panel’s work has clearly added to the historical record.

Given the referrals, the story is not over yet.

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