WASHINGTON — The House Jan. 6 committee voted Monday to recommend that 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.
Trump was the first president in American history to be impeached twice. Now, he is also the first president to be formally referred by Congress for potential prosecution.
The committee's final meeting was the culmination of a sweeping 17-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.
The select committee also took aim at Trump’s top allies — on and off Capitol Hill — who worked with the former 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.
And it referred four Republican members of Congress to the House Ethics Committee for defying subpoenas from the committee earlier this year, including House Minority Leader and potential incoming Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. The others are: Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who is expected to be the next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Scott Perry, R-Pa.
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.
Pressed why Trump and Eastman were the only ones formally referred to DOJ, Raskin told reporters there was an internal debate within the committee about the scope of the referrals. While the committee found that other Trump associates — including Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani and Jeffrey Clark — were “actors” in the plot to overturn the election, Raskin said, investigators were “stymied” because some individuals chose not to cooperate with the Jan. 6 panel.
“We focused on the masterminds and the ring-leaders, and we trust that the Department of Justice will do its job, as they’ve been doing,” Raskin said after the meeting.
The committee is wrapping up its work before it disbands at the end of the year. But Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the nation finds itself "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,” he said. “If we are to survive as a nation of laws and democracy, this can never happen again.”
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.
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.
Responding to the criminal referral, Eastman said the Jan. 6 panel had failed to address gaps in Capitol security and the electoral system and instead chose to focus on a “pretend” criminal case.
“A criminal ‘referral’ from a congressional committee is not binding on the Department of Justice and carries no more legal weight than a ‘referral’ from any American citizen, Eastman said in a statement. “In fact, a ‘referral’ from the January 6th committee should carry a great deal less weight due to the absurdly partisan nature of the process that produced it.”
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 vice 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 advisers 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."
Witnesses, most of them Republicans, testified to the Jan. 6 panel that Trump and his inner circle had furiously worked to sow doubt about Biden’s legitimate election victory.
They testified that Trump launched a multipronged campaign to pressure state officials, senior Justice Department officials and Vice President Mike Pence to help overturn the election.
They said Trump directed a mob of thousands of his supporters to march on the Capitol to disrupt lawmakers from certifying the results of the election.
And the witnesses, which included many former Trump White House aides, said he refused to call off his supporters as they brutally assaulted police officers and stormed the halls of Congress while chanting threats to "hang Mike Pence" and target lawmakers by name.
Trump recently used 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.
The committee on Monday also voted to formally adopt its full report on its Jan. 6 investigation, which kicked off in July 2021. It is expected to be hundreds of pages long and will be released to the public on Wednesday. Interview transcripts and other written and video evidence will also be shared with the public, committee members said.
“With painstaking detail, this executive summary documents the sinister plot to subvert the Congress, shred the Constitution and halt the peaceful transfer of power. The Committee has reached important conclusions about the evidence it has developed, and I respect those findings," said outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was targeted during the attack and who created the Jan. 6 committee.
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 Thompson said his committee's report will be different in one significant way: It will be released first digitally, which will allow the panel to link to evidence that can provide the public with greater context.
"Whereas other reports have just been a bunch of pages, we think the digital part will add another dimension to it," Thompson told reporters.
During the hearing, 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 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.”