1st time Congress makes criminal referral against president
January 6 committee recommends charging Trump, branding him ‘unfit for any office’
US House panel unanimously urges Justice Department to prosecute ex-president for inciting insurrection, obstructing an official proceeding, conspiring to defraud the government
By AFP Today, 10:32 pm
A video presentation plays as the US House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol holds its final meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 19, 2022. (AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin)
WASHINGTON — The congressional committee that investigated last year’s attack on the US Capitol recommended Monday that criminal charges be filed against former US president Donald Trump.
The House panel unanimously urged the Justice Department to pursue Trump for inciting an insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiring to defraud the US government, and making false statements.
“The committee has developed significant evidence that president Trump intended to disrupt the peaceful transition of power under our Constitution,” Representative Jamie Raskin said, as he outlined the panel’s findings.
“We believe that the evidence described by my colleagues today, and assembled throughout our hearings, warrants a criminal referral of former president Donald J. Trump,” Raskin said.
The committee’s recommendations to the Justice Department will end up with a special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to look into Trump’s role in the Capitol riot and his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
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In her opening remarks at Monday’s session, vice chair Liz Cheney accused Trump of “a clear dereliction of duty” in failing to immediately attempt to stop the riot and called him “unfit for any office.”
Vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney speaks, as the US House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol holds its final meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
“No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again,” she said.
The referrals are largely symbolic, as the panel has no control over charging decisions, which rests with the Justice Department.
But the lawmakers’ move is nevertheless historic, as Congress has never made a criminal referral against a sitting or former president.
It would also be another blow to Trump, after a series of missteps in the weeks since he announced a comeback bid for the White House.
Charges could result in a ban from public office for the 76-year-old tycoon, who still wields considerable power in the Republican Party, or even prison time.
“To cast a vote in the United States is an act of faith and hope,” committee chairman Bennie Thompson said.
Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson listens as the US House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol holds its final meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
“That faith in our system is the foundation of American democracy. If the faith is broken, so is our democracy. Donald Trump broke that faith.”
The seven Democratic and two Republican panel members are winding down their work before the end of the year, and have compiled their findings into an eight-chapter report set to be released on Wednesday.
The committee maintains that Trump “oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power.”
Investigators say the plot began with Trump’s campaign to spread allegations he knew were false that the election was marred by widespread fraud.
He is accused of trying to corrupt the Justice Department and of pressuring his vice president Mike Pence, as well as state election officials and legislators, to overturn the vote by violating the Constitution and the law.
Trump is also accused of summoning and assembling the mob in Washington, and directing it toward the Capitol, despite knowing his audience was armed with assault rifles, handguns, and numerous other weapons.
US Rep. Jamie Raskin speaks during the final US House Select Committee hearing to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 19, 2022. (Mandel NGAN / AFP)
And he ignored pleas from his team to take action to stop the violence, lawmakers say.
The committee showed a reel of video and audio highlights from its 10 public hearings, including footage of the riot and extracts of interviews with former attorney general Bill Barr, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and ex-White House counsel Pat Cipollone.
The clips were shown under headings such as “Trump knew he lost,” and “Trump summoned the mob.”
Democratic panel member Zoe Lofgren said Trump’s false fraud claims — far from being spontaneous — were part of a deliberate attempt to sow distrust in democracy that began long before the insurrection.
The committee’s case was bolstered by a federal judge in California who found it “more likely than not that president Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6.”
Lawmakers are also mulling criminal referrals of other figures in Trump’s inner circle, including lawyer John Eastman, one of the architects of the defeated president’s bid to cling to power.
Trump has repeatedly disparaged the House panel on his own Truth Social platform, calling the members “Democrats, misfits and thugs.”