Video: Joining “Chicago Tonight” to discuss the Jan. 6 Committee’s criminal referral are Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice; Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor in private practice; and Harold Krent, professor of law and dean at Chicago-Kent College of Law. (Produced by Paul Caine)
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Jan. 6 committee urged the Justice Department on Monday to bring criminal charges against former President Donald Trump and his allies, wrapping up its investigation of the violent 2021 Capitol insurrection with what lawmakers called a “roadmap to justice.”
As they cap one of the most exhaustive and aggressive congressional probes in memory, the panel’s seven Democrats and two Republicans are recommending criminal charges against Trump and associates who helped him launch a multifaceted pressure campaign to try to overturn his 2020 election loss. The panel also released a lengthy summary of its final report, with findings that Trump engaged in a “multi-part conspiracy” to overturn the election.
The committee alleged violations of four criminal statutes by Trump, in both the run-up to the riot and during the insurrection itself, as it recommended the former president for prosecution to the Justice Department. The charges recommended by the committee are conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to make a false statement and aiding an insurrection.
While a criminal referral is mostly symbolic, with the Justice Department ultimately deciding whether to prosecute Trump or others, it is a decisive end to a probe that had an almost singular focus from the start.
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the criminal justice system can provide accountability, adding, “We have every confidence that the work of this committee will help provide a roadmap to justice.”
Thompson said Trump “broke the faith” that people have when they cast ballots in a democracy. “He lost the 2020 election and knew it,” Thompson said. “But he chose to try to stay in office through a multi-part scheme to overturn the results and block the transfer of power.”
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the panel’s Republican vice chairwoman, said in opening remarks that every president in American history has defended the orderly transfer of power, “except one.”
The committee also voted 9-0 to approve its final report, which will include findings, interview transcripts and legislative recommendations.
The report’s 154-page summary, made public as the hearing ended, found that Trump engaged in a “multi-part conspiracy” to overturn the election, purposely disseminating false allegations of voter fraud, pressuring Congress, the Justice Department and his vice president to join his efforts to subvert the results so that he could stay in power and then refusing for hours to tell his supporters to leave the Capitol on Jan. 6.
While the majority of the report’s main findings are not new, it altogether represents one of the most damning portraits of an American president in recent history. Whether he is prosecuted or not, the panel is laying out in great detail Trump’s broad effort to overturn his own defeat and what the lawmakers say is his direct responsibility for the insurrection of his supporters.
The panel, which will dissolve on Jan. 3 with the new Republican-led House, has conducted more than 1,000 interviews, held 10 well-watched public hearings and collected more than a million documents since it launched in July 2021. As it has gathered the massive trove of evidence, the members have become emboldened in declaring that Trump, a Republican, is to blame for the violent attack on the Capitol by his supporters almost two years ago.
After beating their way past police, injuring many of them, the Jan. 6 rioters stormed the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election win, echoing Trump’s lies about widespread election fraud and sending lawmakers and others running for their lives.
The attack came after weeks of Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat — a campaign that was extensively detailed by the committee in its multiple public hearings, and laid out again by lawmakers on the panel on Monday. Many of Trump’s former aides testified about his unprecedented pressure on states, on federal officials and on Vice President Mike Pence to find a way to thwart the popular will. The committee has also described in great detail how Trump riled up the crowd at a rally that morning and then did little to stop his supporters for several hours as he watched the violence unfold on television.
The panel aired some new evidence at the meeting, including a recent interview with longtime Trump aide Hope Hicks. Describing a conversation she had with Trump around that time, she said he told her that no one would care about his legacy if he lost the election.
Hicks told the committee that Trump told her, “The only thing that matters is winning.”
While a so-called criminal referral has no real legal standing, it is a forceful statement by the committee and adds to political pressure already on Attorney General Merrick Garland and special counsel Jack Smith, who is conducting an investigation into Jan. 6 and Trump’s actions.
The panel was formed in the summer of 2021 after Senate Republicans blocked the formation of what would have been a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the insurrection. When that effort failed, the Democratic-controlled House formed an investigative committee of its own.
As the committee was getting started, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, a Trump ally, decided not to participate after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected some of his appointments. That left an opening for two anti-Trump Republicans in the House — Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to join seven Democrats, launching an unusually unified panel in the divided Congress.
While the committee’s mission was to take a comprehensive accounting of the insurrection and educate the public about what happened, they’ve also aimed their work at an audience of one: the attorney general. Lawmakers on the panel have openly pressured Garland to investigate Trump’s actions, and last month he appointed a special counsel, Smith, to oversee two probes related to Trump, including those related to the insurrection and the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate.
In court documents earlier this year, the committee suggested criminal charges against Trump could include conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress.
In a “conspiracy to defraud the United States,” the committee argues that evidence supports an inference that Trump and his allies “entered into an agreement to defraud the United States” when they disseminated misinformation about election fraud and pressured state and federal officials to assist in that effort. Trump still says he won the election to this day.
The panel also asserts that Trump obstructed an official proceeding, the joint session of Congress in which the Electoral College votes are certified. The committee said Trump either attempted or succeeded at obstructing, influencing or impeding the ceremonial process on Jan. 6 and “did so corruptly” by pressuring Pence to try to overturn the results as he presided over the session. Pence declined to do so.
A criminal referral on the charge of insurrection is a clear effort to hold Trump directly accountable for the rioters who stormed the building. The rarely used insurrection statute criminalizes any effort to incite, engage in or assist a rebellion or insurrection “against the authority of the United States.”
The committee may make ethics referrals for five House Republicans — including McCarthy — who ignored congressional subpoenas from the panel.
The panel subpoenaed McCarthy, R-Calif., and Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama. The panel has investigated McCarthy’s conversations with Trump the day of the attack and meetings the four other lawmakers had with the White House beforehand as Trump and some of his allies worked to overturn his election defeat.