The Jan. 6 Panel’s Christmas Gift: a Criminal Referral for Trump

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In what will likely be its final meeting, the House’s Jan. 6 Committee on Monday put an exclamation point on nearly 18 months of work: it approved four federal criminal referrals for former President Donald Trump.

During their hearing, the select committee’s seven Democrats and two Republicans summarized their forthcoming final report, which includes recommendations that the Department of Justice charge Trump for inciting or assisting an insurrection, obstructing an official proceeding, and committing conspiracy to defraud the federal government.

The report also includes a criminal referral for John Eastman, the Trump lawyer behind the legal strategy to keep Trump in office. It will also refer four Republican members of Congress—who were not named during Monday’s hearing—to the House Ethics Committee for refusing the committee’s subpoenas. Five Republican lawmakers were subpoenaed by the committee in May: Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Scott Perry (R-PA), Mo Brooks (R-AL), and Andy Biggs (R-AZ). (McCarthy is the House GOP leader; Brooks is retiring.)

It was a historic moment. No current or former president has ever faced such an action from a congressional panel. But the referrals carry no inherent legal authority, and notably, the DOJ is already investigating Trump for potentially breaking federal law in relation to his moves surrounding Jan. 6. Formal referrals to the Ethics Committee are rare to see, but ultimately nonbinding.

During the hearing, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) outlined the committee’s referral recommendations just before the panel unanimously adopted the full report.

Still, there is more than historic symbolism at play for the committee in issuing the referrals. This Wednesday, the panel is expected to release its lengthy final report summarizing its findings and substantiating its arguments that Trump, and his allies, broke federal law.

The committee’s months of investigation, which has included more than 1,000 interviews with witnesses, have already surfaced scores of revelations, from testimony alleging Trump knew the crowd at the Capitol was armed to his unprecedented push to elevate a mid-level DOJ attorney, Jeffrey Clark, as acting attorney general to help keep him in power.

True to the panel’s history so far, they saved a few major items to be revealed during the final hearing. During her remarks, for instance, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said the committee learned that Trump’s orbit attempted to entice witnesses into not cooperating with the investigation by offering them jobs.

Lofgren also said there were big questions about Trump’s fundraising burst after the 2020 election and indicated donors’ money may have been used for hiring lawyers.

The panel’s public findings have already helped guide federal prosecutors probing Trump and Jan. 6. While Special Counsel Jack Smith—the DOJ’s point man for handling its criminal probe of Trump—is not required to pay heed to the committee’s findings and arguments, it’s unlikely the final report will be ignored.

During his opening remarks on Monday, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chairman of the select committee, expressed “every confidence” that federal prosecutors will use their final report as a “road map to justice.”

For a committee that has been remarkably successful not only in gathering a huge body of evidence but releasing those findings with maximum impact, Monday’s hearing was a fitting capstone.

The panel already had 10 public hearings, with an October meeting billed as their wrap-up. But after Republicans won enough seats in November to take control of the House—and immediately shutter the select committee come January 3rd—the panel added a final session to approve the referrals.

Since the committee last met publicly in October, of course, Trump kicked off his campaign to return to the White House in 2024. That context seemed to add a new dimension to the panel’s final meeting.

“We remain in strange and uncharted waters,” Thompson said in his remarks. “Nearly two years later, it is still a time of reflection and reckoning.”

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