WASHINGTON — The January 6th Committee voted Monday to refer former President Donald Trump to the Justice Department on four criminal counts, including insurrection, in a historic move aimed at seeking accountability for the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building.
The committee, formally styled the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, voted unanimously to refer Trump on criminal counts of obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, making false statements and, most significantly, insurrection. The vote is the first time in American history Congress has referred a former president for possible criminal conduct.
The vote will likely have little weight with the Justice Department, which is already looking at Trump as part of its massive and ongoing investigation into Jan. 6, but does serve as the capstone of 18 months of work and nearly a dozen public hearings by the committee. Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said there would also be criminal referrals for attorney John Eastman — the author of the so-called "Eastman Memo" which laid out a plan for the vice president to overturn the election results — and others, as well as referrals to the House Ethics Committee for four members of Congress accused of refusing to comply with lawful subpoenas: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA).
Biggs, who the committee accused in an executive summary of its forthcoming report of being involved in "numerous elements" of Trump's efforts to contest election results, released a statement Monday evening calling his referral a "final political stunt."
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Prosecutors will likely be much more interested in thousands of pages of interview transcripts expected to be released by the committee along with a report of their findings later in the week. The DOJ has sought for more than a year to access those documents to compare what witnesses in ongoing criminal investigations told congressional investigators.
Before their vote, members of the committee reviewed the months of hearings held over the summer and previewed the outline of the upcoming report. Those hearings included testimony from Georgia election workers Wandrea Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman about how Trump and attorney Rudy Giuliani's lies about the election drove them from their homes, Justice Department officials who threatened to resign en masse if Trump placed loyalist Jeffrey Clark at the head of the department, and the pressure campaign against former Vice President Mike Pence.
"As a country, we remain in strange and uncharted waters," committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-GA) said at the opening of the hearing. "We've never had a president stir up a violent attempt to stay in power."
In a new video shown Monday, former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks told the committee she warned Trump that his efforts to overturn the election were hurting his legacy. According to Hicks, Trump responded, "Nobody will care about my legacy if I lose... The only thing that matters is winning."
The committee also played a montage of Trump administration officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, expressing their shock at Trump's decision not to call for a law enforcement response or to reach out to his acting secretary of defense during an unprecedent assault on the Capitol.
Despite the committee’s historic votes, the members are not the first federal officials to suggest Trump could be held criminally liable for the Jan. 6 attack. In March, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter issued a 44-page order saying he believed evidence available at the time showed Trump and attorney John Eastman “more likely than not” attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress with a plan to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally reject electoral ballots.
“Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower,” Carter wrote. “It was a coup in search of a legal theory… If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution.”
The committee’s investigation has already resulted in two prosecutions – including one that resulted in the conviction of former Trump campaign manager and White House senior adviser Steve Bannon in July on two counts of contempt of Congress. Bannon was ordered to serve four months in prison for defying a congressional subpoena, but that sentence is currently stayed pending appeal. A second Trump administration official, former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, was scheduled to begin a trial on the same charges of contempt of Congress in January.
Although the committee’s referrals carry no formal weight, they represent the latest legal challenge for the former president. Since leaving office, Trump has become mired in lawsuits and investigations, including the ongoing probe by special counsel Jack Smith into classified documents found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Earlier this month, a New York jury found two Trump Organization companies guilty of criminal tax fraud and falsifying records. Trump is also the target of civil suits brought by police officers who responded to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and other plaintiffs. Trump is named as a defendant in those suits along with his long-time confidante Roger Stone, Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander and members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. A panel of judges from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering whether Trump should be immune from civil liability because he was president at the time.
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