The House committee investigating last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol is going out with guns blazing, using its final appearance on the public stage to recommend severe criminal charges against former President Trump and accuse four sitting GOP lawmakers — including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) — of ethical lapses for their refusal to cooperate with the probe.
In their 10th public forum, panel members on Monday laid out the final findings of their marathon probe, which center on charges that Trump orchestrated a coup to remain in power despite his 2020 election defeat.
In the process, they also launched their most aggressive foray against Trump since the probe began 18 months ago, accusing the former president of inciting an insurrection, among other crimes, and advising the Justice Department to investigate the charges further — an undertaking the department has already begun.
“Today, beyond our findings, we will also show that evidence we’ve gathered points to further action beyond the power of this committee or the Congress to help ensure accountability under law — accountability that can only be found in the criminal justice system,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the select committee, said at the outset of Monday’s meeting.
From a practical standpoint, the referrals are largely symbolic. The committee has no powers of prosecution, and the Justice Department is under no obligation to weigh the recommendations, let alone act on them.
Yet from a political perspective, the referrals are a remarkable escalation in advancing the investigators’ overarching case that Trump not only summoned supporters to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest the results of the 2020 presidential contest, but also encouraged an armed crowd to march on the Capitol, then sat idle while the mob stormed into the building in a failed attempt to reverse Trump’s election defeat.
“This was an utter moral failure — and a clear dereliction of duty,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the vice chairwoman of the select committee and one of just two Republicans on the nine-member panel.
“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 continued. “He is unfit for any office.”
The committee’s move to endorse criminal charges marked something of a change of heart for Thompson, the chairman, who had said in June that the select committee was merely an investigative body — one that lacks the authority to make such recommendations.
Since then, however, the panel has heard damning testimony from a long list of eyewitnesses to the events surrounding the Capitol attack, including former Trump officials who were in the West Wing that day. And as the evidence piled up, the resistance to criminal referrals on the select committee seemed to erode, although not without some friction among members of the panel.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), another panel member, identified the “two poles” driving that internal discussion: There were members opposed to any criminal referrals, he said, and “those on the other end who said we should refer every single offense that we saw, of any type, no matter how central.”
“We ended up in the middle, with the idea that we should focus on the central actors with the major offenses,” Raskin told reporters after Monday’s forum. “And that’s what you heard today.”
The explicit criminal referrals target only two figures: Trump and John Eastman, a conservative lawyer and informal Trump adviser who was the architect of the legal scaffolding on which the “stop the steal” movement rested. The committee accused both men of obstructing an official proceeding, namely the transfer of power from one administration to the next, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.
Investigators also accused Trump of two additional crimes: inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6 and conspiracy to make false statements, referring to the campaign to seat a false slate of electors to back Trump even in certain states he lost.
Noticeably absent from the referral list were a number of close Trump allies who have been scrutinized by the select committee throughout the investigation, including Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former personal lawyer; Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff; and Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official sympathetic to the “stop the steal” movement. Heading into Jan. 6, Trump wanted to install Clark at the top of the agency, where he might have abetted efforts to keep the former president in power.
Raskin suggested there were several reasons for those omissions, including a lack of consensus among the investigators, a dearth of evidence to advance specific criminal charges and an absence of cooperation among certain witnesses. The panel is hoping the Justice Department picks up where the select committee — which sunsets at the end of this Congress — left off.
“You’ll see that when you read the report that there are lots of other people named as actors. But we were stymied by virtue of the fact that not everybody would testify, lots of people took the Fifth Amendment. So with respect to other particular actors, like Clark or Giuliani, we just can’t say because we don’t have quite enough evidence,” he said. “That’s going to be up to the Department of Justice to determine.”
The committee also took aim at four sitting GOP lawmakers — McCarthy and Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Scott Perry (Pa.) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.) — who had both supported Trump’s false claims of a “stolen” election and had a unique window into the events on and around Jan. 6. All four had been issued subpoenas to testify before the committee, and all four refused.
In its final response, the investigators referred those lawmakers to the House Ethics Committee, though it’s unclear if that panel — which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans — will take up the issue when Republicans take over control of the House next year.
Republicans are already hammering those referrals as a political attack orchestrated by a select committee, initiated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), that’s been stacked from the start with Trump critics.
“This referral is their final political stunt,” Biggs said in a statement.
Trump’s critics countered that ignoring a congressional subpoena without some form of punishment — even for sitting members of Congress — would set a dangerous example and undermine the effectiveness of Congress as an oversight body.
“It demands a complete investigation, and there should be something that reflects the punishment,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who is not a member of the Jan. 6 committee but was on hand to witness the final meeting of the panel.
“They have set a diabolical precedent,” she added.
A bulk of Monday’s forum was spent summarizing previous evidence and testimony indicating that Trump sought to remain in power at all costs. Yet the panel has also been conducting depositions and accepting new evidence in the three months since its last public hearing, in September, and Monday’s forum featured some new details from those depositions, including new testimony from Hope Hicks, a former Trump adviser, who told investigators that there was no evidence of mass voter fraud in 2020.
“I was becoming increasingly concerned that we were damaging his legacy,” she said.
Trump responded that winning was more important, she said.
While Monday’s meeting marked the final public forum for the nine-member committee, it’s not the panel’s final word. That will come on Wednesday, when the committee unveils its concluding report, which is expected to comprise eight chapters, each one focused on a prominent facet of the planning, orchestration and response to the Jan. 6 rampage at the Capitol.
Thompson said other materials gathered during the course of the panel’s investigation — “the bulk of its nonsensitive documents” — would be released before the end of the year.