WASHINGTON — The House Jan. 6 committee unanimously voted Monday to refer four criminal charges against former President Donald Trump to the Department of Justice, likely adding to public pressure to prosecute Trump for his attempted coup.
“We’ve never had a president stir up a violent attempt to stop the transfer of power,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee chair and a Mississippi Democrat. “This can never happen again.”
Added Rep. Liz Cheney, the vice chair and a Wyoming Republican: “Every president in our history has accepted this peaceful transfer of authority, except one.”
Rep. Jaime Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, laid out the various charges that the committee would send along for prosecution: obstructing an official proceeding, conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to make false statements, and inciting an insurrection against the United States.
“Ours is not a system of justice where foot soldiers go to jail and the masterminds and ringleaders get a free pass,” Raskin said.
Trump responded on his Twitter-like social media platform Monday evening, claiming that the criminal referrals actually help him. “It strengthens me,” he wrote. “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
The committee earlier in the day again showed proof that Trump knew that his claims that the election had been stolen from him were false ― a key element for criminal prosecution ― with testimony from his own staff. A video from White House aide Hope Hicks described her efforts to persuade him to concede his loss to preserve his legacy. His reply, according to Hicks, was: “Nobody will care about my legacy if I lose, so that won’t matter. The only thing that matters is winning.”
Another clip from Hicks revealed that Trump was specifically advised by a White House lawyer to ask his followers to remain nonviolent, but Trump rejected that advice.
The referrals, unlike the committee’s contempt of Congress recommendations, do not need the approval of the full House. Like the contempt referrals, they cannot force prosecutors to charge or even start an investigation against anyone. Publicly known subpoenas and witness appearances, though, suggest that Trump and anyone else likely to be referred by the committee are already under active criminal investigation.
The committee acknowledged that in an executive summary released after the meeting.
“Criminal referrals from a congressional committee are often made in circumstances where prosecutors are not yet known to be pursuing some of the same facts and evidence,” the committee wrote. “That is not the case here.”
Trump, former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark and right-wing lawyer John Eastman are specifically named in the referral to prosecutors. All three helped advance a scheme that threatened violence, and ultimately incited violence, to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers to give Trump a second term despite his losing the 2020 election.
Several GOP lawmakers, including Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), were referred to the House Ethics Committee over their refusal to honor subpoenas to appear before the Jan. 6 committee.
The committee pointed out, however, that prosecutors have tools that the committee lacked to force McCarthy and others to testify.
“The department may also be able to access, via grand jury subpoena or otherwise, the testimony of Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, Representative Scott Perry, Representative Jim Jordan and others, each of whom appears to have had materially relevant communications with Donald Trump or others in the White House but who failed to comply with the Select Committee’s subpoenas,” the committee wrote.
The committee’s last act is likely to be the release of its final report this week, possibly on Wednesday. It plans to release an executive summary of the report Monday, following the hearing.
The committee is facing an end-of-year deadline to finish its work. Four of the panel’s nine members are not returning to Congress. Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger and Florida Democrat Stephanie Murphy chose not to seek reelection. Vice-chair Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, was defeated by a Trump-backed challenger in her primary. And Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria was ousted by a Republican in the November midterms.
Additionally, Republicans are set to take control of the House on Jan. 3, and the panel will almost certainly not be allowed to continue.
The Jan. 6 committee was created in late spring 2021 after Trump’s supporters in Congress, including House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, killed an attempt to form a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Nancy Pelosi, the chamber’s Democratic speaker, instead pushed through a resolution creating a House “select” committee to investigate the attack by thousands of Trump supporters. She then vetoed some of McCarthy’s picks for the panel, who had worked with Trump to overturn Biden’s victory, and McCarthy responded by boycotting the committee altogether. Pelosi then appointed Kinzinger and Cheney, allowing it to remain bipartisan.
In a series of nine public hearings that began on June 9 and stretched through mid-October, the committee has presented evidence that Trump’s own staff repeatedly told him that he had lost the 2020 election but that he continued with his lies about “voter fraud” anyway, and that Trump pressured Pence to simply declare him the winner during the Jan. 6 certification ceremony. The committee also exposed Trump’s attempts to coerce officials in states Joe Biden narrowly won, especially Georgia, to reverse the election results in favor of Trump, and his attempts to subvert the Justice Department into falsely backing his claims of a “stolen” election.
The originally unplanned sixth hearing came about after top Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson disclosed attempts to intimidate her from sharing explosive revelations about Trump’s actions on and leading up to Jan. 6. The final hearings showed how both Trump and key outside advisers knew all along that he planned to lead his mob’s march to the Capitol to pressure Pence and lawmakers into overturning the election and letting him remain in power.
Trump, despite losing the election by 7 million votes nationally and 306-232 in the Electoral College, became the first president in more than two centuries of U.S. elections to refuse to hand over power peacefully. He incited the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― which led to the deaths of five people, including one police officer, another 140 injured police officers and four police suicides.
Nevertheless, Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is running for the presidency again in 2024.
In statements on his personal social media platform, Trump has continued to lie about the election and the Jan. 6 committee’s work, calling it a “hoax” similar to previous investigations into his 2016 campaign’s acceptance of Russian assistance and his attempted extortion of Ukraine into helping his 2020 campaign.