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Trump Should Be Prosecuted, Jan. 6 Committee Declares in Historic Criminal Referral

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Updated: | Originally published:

The House Jan. 6 committee voted on Monday to refer criminal charges against Donald Trump to the Justice Department for trying to overturn the 2020 election, the first time a congressional committee has made such a declaration against a former President. The nine-member, bipartisan committee unanimously agreed that there was enough evidence for the department to pursue at least four charges: obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the government, making false statements, and assisting an insurrection.

It will be up to the Justice Department—specifically Special Counsel Jack Smith, who Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed last month to take over criminal investigations involving Trump—to decide whether to bring charges or not.

The historic move was the capstone of 18 months of investigations and 10 public hearings by the select committee, which has worked to build a case that Trump was a central player in the events leading to a violent mob attacking the Capitol, and that he knew his claims of a stolen election were baseless.

The committee chose to make criminal referrals “where the gravity of the specific offense, the severity and its actual harm, and the centrality of the offender to the overall design of the unlawful scheme to overthrow the election compel us to speak,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, as he announced the referrals the panel was making against Trump, John Eastman, a conservative lawyer who advised Trump after his election loss, and others.

“We trust that the Department of Justice will be able to form a far more complete picture through its own investigation,” Raskin later added.

The Justice Department was already in the middle of an investigation into Trump’s role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The department is also looking into the former President’s taking of classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida when he left office. Garland put both investigations under the purview of a special counsel the same week that Trump formally announced his 2024 presidential campaign.

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, framed the committee’s work into a broader sweep of American history, saying Trump’s efforts to stay in power after losing the election broke with more than two centuries of American tradition and rule of law. She described the pioneering decision by George Washington at the end of the Revolutionary War to resign his commission and turn the power of the Continental Army back to Congress, and quoted President Ronald Reagan saying the peaceful transfer of power in the U.S was seen by many as “a miracle.”

“Every president in our history has defended this orderly transfer of authority except one,” said Cheney, who in August lost her Republican primary for another term in a race that was defined by her criticism of Trump.

Moments after the hearing ended, the committee unveiled the 154-page introduction to its final report, which is expected to be released in full later this week.

The committee also referred four House Republicans—Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, and Andy Biggs—to the House Ethics Committee for failing to fully comply with committee subpoenas. In the introduction of its report, the committee said those four Republicans and others attended a planning meeting with Trump at the White House on Dec. 21, 2020, and should answer questions in public about what they knew in advance of the attack on the Capitol about Trump’s plans to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. McCarthy is in line to be the next House Speaker, though Biggs has mounted a challenge against him.

Read more: The Jan. 6 Committee Thinks Some Trump Allies Lied to Them—and Mark Meadows Provided the Roadmap

While most of the evidence presented on Monday had been divulged in previous hearings, the committee unveiled a handful of new communications between Trump officials and allies. While the Capitol was under siege on January 6, Hogan Gidley, Trump’s former deputy press secretary, texted the president’s longtime aide and confidant Hope Hicks.

“Hey I know you’re seeing this,” Gidley said. “But he really should tweet something about Being NON-violent.”

“I’m not there,” Hicks texted back around 2:20 p.m. “I suggested it several times Monday and Tuesday and he refused.”

In taped testimony with the House panel, Hicks said she had not talked directly with Trump ahead of Jan. 6 but spoke with White House attorney Eric Herschmann, who told her he made the same pleas to the president multiple times, but to no avail. Instead, Trump gave a fiery speech near the White House, in which he whipped up his supporters to head toward the Capitol.

Last summer, former White House official Cassidy Hutchinson told the committee that Trump was warned ahead of that speech that many of his supporters in the crowd that day were heavily armed.

Monday’s public meeting and the release of the full report later this week are expected to be the committee’s final acts before sunsetting ahead of Republicans taking control of the House in January. But committee members suggested that neither Congress nor the public should move on too quickly from the deadly attack on the Capitol. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, emphasized on Monday that “as a country we remain in strange and uncharted waters,” perhaps alluding to Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign and the endurance of election deniers still holding positions of power and influence on the American right.

“I believe, nearly two years later, this is still a time of reflection and reckoning,” he said.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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