January 6 Committee Approves 4 Criminal Referrals Against Donald Trump, Urges DOJ to Prosecute

The panel, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, began its investigation months after the violent insurrection on Capitol Hill and detailed its findings in a series of televised hearings this summer and fall. The meetings featured bombshell testimony from former Trump staffers and stunning revelations about the former president’s conduct during and surrounding the attack. It made a compelling and persuasive case that he and his allies intentionally sought to overturn the results of the free and fair election through various dubious and at times seemingly illegal means. When those efforts failed, according to the committee, Trump sicced a mob he knew to be armed on Congress to prevent the certification of the election January 6 and refused to put a stop to it, even as the rioters stalked the halls of the Capitol chanting: “Hang Mike Pence!” 

The committee presented a wealth of incriminating evidence against Trump, top administration officials, and others in his orbit. It also shone an unflattering light on a number of sitting Republican elected officials, including House Minority Leader McCarthy, who is fighting to become Speaker when his party assumes control of the chamber next month. The panel is almost certain to be disbanded under the GOP majority. Several Republicans, including McCarthy, have threatened to investigate the investigators, several of whom either lost reelection or are retiring from Congress. Retiring Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of the two Republicans on the panel, ripped into his party in a farewell address on the House floor last week. “Unfortunately, we now live in a world where lies trump truth, where democracy is being challenged by authoritarianism,” Kinzinger said. “If we, America’s elected leaders, do not search for a way out, I fear this great experiment will fall into the ash heap of history.”

Kinzinger is departing Congress along with fellow Republican Cheney, who lost her primary against a challenger who embraced Trump, and Democrats Elaine Luria, who lost her seat in last month’s midterms, and Stephanie Murphy, who is retiring from Congress. Another committee member, Adam Schiff, could lose his committee assignments in the new Congress next year, along with a handful of other Democrats McCarthy has vowed to punish in retaliation for discipline the party handed down to far-right Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar

What ultimately comes of the committee’s work remains to be seen. Trump, whose standing in the GOP has appeared to deteriorate of late, is still running for president again. He is already under intense legal scrutiny on a number of fronts: His namesake company was recently convicted on fraud charges, he’s facing potential charges over his handling of classified materials he brought from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, and the Justice Department is already investigating Trump as part of its broader January 6 probe. Roughly a thousand people have been charged in that inquiry, nearly 500 have pleaded guilty, and a number of others have been convicted. Among them: Jeremy Bertino, a former Proud Boys leader, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in October, and Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy last month. The panel’s recommendations, and its vast trove of materials gathered in its investigation, could intensify the DOJ’s scrutiny into Trump himself. 

But the committee’s referrals, along with ethics complaints against Republican lawmakers and recommendations to safeguard against another insurrection, are not binding, and it is possible that the work could end up being mostly symbolic. That’s not nothing: While GOP elected officials have continued to thumb their nose at the committee’s warnings, they may have helped establish the future of democracy as a midterm issue for the American public. “I believe, nearly two years later, that this is still a time of reflection and reckoning,” Thompson said Monday. “If we are to survive as a nation of laws and democracy, this can never happen again.”

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