The congressional committee that investigated last year’s January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol recommended Monday that the Justice Department criminally prosecute former President Donald Trump for trying to illegally scheme to upend his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden and promote violence to stay in power.
In a first in U.S. history, the House of Representatives panel — seven Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans — unanimously urged prosecutors to file four charges against the former U.S. leader.
The committee accused Trump, who left office in January 2021, of inciting or assisting an insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress as it met to certify Biden’s win, conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to make a false statement.
The panel’s actions, however, have no official standing and the committee cannot bring criminal charges.
But its assessment could lend impetus to the ongoing criminal investigations of Trump and others that are already being conducted by special counsel Jack Smith, subject to oversight by Attorney General Merrick Garland, along with a separate probe by a state prosecutor in the Southern state of Georgia.
The panel also referred five other Trump allies — Mark Meadows, Trump’s final White House chief of staff, and lawyers Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor, John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark and Kenneth Chesebro — for potential prosecution for actions the committee said warranted a Justice Department investigation. All had sought to overturn election results to keep Trump in power.
The committee said the House Ethics Committee should investigate the actions of four Republican lawmakers, including the possible next House speaker, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, because of their refusal to comply with the panel’s subpoenas. The other Republicans cited were Representatives Jim Jordan, Scott Perry and Andy Biggs.
The committee plans to release a full, voluminous report on its 18-month investigation on Wednesday. But one conclusion in its executive summary said the panel’s evidence “has led to an overriding and straightforward conclusion: the central cause of Jan. 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, who many others followed. None of the events of Jan. 6th would have happened without him.”
In opening the panel’s 11th and final public hearing, Representative Bennie Thompson, the committee chair, said that when American voters cast their ballots in elections, they expect that candidates will accept the outcome whether they win or lose.
But Thompson said that Trump “broke that faith. He lost that election and knew it.” He said Trump’s “accountability” for his actions “only can be found in the criminal justice system.”
‘Utter moral failure’
The committee’s vice chair, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, accused Trump of “utter moral failure” in becoming the first American president to refuse to accept the quadrennial peaceful transfer of U.S. presidential power and try “to remain in office illegally. He is unfit for any office.”
The investigation included interviews with more than 1,000 witnesses, examination of a million pages of documents related to the final weeks of Trump’s presidency and 10 riveting public hearings.
On Monday, panel members narrated and showed video footage of key witnesses about the riot as lawmakers were starting to certify Biden’s presidential victory.
But in one new video, Hope Hicks, Trump’s former communications director, said she feared his unfounded claims of widespread election fraud “were damaging his legacy.” To this day, Trump contends falsely he was cheated out of another presidential term by voter fraud and vote-counting irregularities.
When the committee asked Hicks for Trump’s response to her concerns, she said in the video, “He said something along the lines of, ‘Nobody will care about my legacy if I lose. So, that won’t matter. The only thing that matters is winning.'”
Last week, a Trump spokesman belittled the possibility of the criminal referrals.
“The January 6th un-Select Committee held show trials by never-Trump partisans who are a stain on this country’s history,” spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement. “This kangaroo court has been nothing more than a Hollywood executive’s vanity documentary project that insults Americans’ intelligence and makes a mockery of our democracy.”
The riot was the worst attack on the Capitol, the symbol of U.S. democracy around the world, in two centuries.
About 2,000 of Trump’s supporters stormed the building, vandalized and ransacked congressional offices, scuffled with police, and for hours kept Congress from certifying the Electoral College outcome.
More than 960 people have been arrested on an array of charges linked to the mayhem, with about half of them already pleading guilty or convicted in trials. Several have been sentenced to more than four years in prison.
In the United States, presidents are not elected by the national popular balloting, although Biden won 7 million more votes than Trump. Instead, presidents are elected in the Electoral College, depending on the state-by-state outcome in each of the 50 states, with the most populous states having the most electors and thus the most sway on the national outcome.
After the rioters were cleared from the Capitol, Congress eventually affirmed Biden’s victory in the early hours of January 7, 2021.
One of the committee members, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show Sunday that he believes Trump committed multiple crimes.
On the insurrection allegation, Schiff said, “If you look at Donald Trump’s acts and you match them up against the statute, it’s a pretty good match.”
“This is someone who in multiple ways tried to pressure state officials to find votes that didn’t exist. This is someone who tried to interfere with a joint session [of Congress as it tried to certify the Electoral College outcome], even inciting a mob to attack the Capitol,” Schiff said.
“If that’s not criminal, then I don’t know what it is,” Schiff concluded.