Trump referred for criminal prosecution by House Jan. 6 committee
WASHINGTON (CN) — Marking the first time in U.S. history that a former president has faced such a referral, House lawmakers who have been investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol voted on Monday to have the Department of Justice prosecute former President Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection.
The House committee voted unanimously to refer four charges: obstruction of an official proceeding; conspiracy to defraud the U.S.; conspiracy to make a false statement, and inciting, assisting or engaging in rebellion or insurrection against the U.S.
While largely symbolic, the charges, if proven, are punishable by significant prison time. The obstruction charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years.
“The committee has developed significant evidence that President Trump intended to disrupt the peaceful transfer of transition of power under our Constitution," Representative Adam Schiff said Monday afternoon.
Representatives for the Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent Monday, nor did representatives for Trump.
Trump’s former attorney, John Eastman, was also referred by the committee Monday for two criminal charges" obstruction and conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
Schiff, a California Democrat, said the committee did not try to identify all of the former president’s alleged co-conspirators and that the “role of many individuals may be incomplete even today, because they refuse to answer our questions.”
“We trust that the Department of Justice will be able to form a far more complete picture through its own investigation,” he said.
Without calling these individuals out by name, Schiff noted that the committee will also make sanctions referrals to the House Ethics Committee for four members of Congress whom the committee subpoenaed but defied those orders to testify.
At least five Republicans are known to have ignored committee subpoenas: Representatives Kevin McCarthy of California, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama.
The criminal referrals are part of the committee's final report, which members voted 9-0 to approve and is expected to be released on Wednesday. There are 118 pages just in the executive summary released Monday.
Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the Jan. 6 committee, said he hopes the report will help to prevent another day like Jan. 6 from happening again.
The select committee was formed in July 2021 with the goal of providing transparency to the public about the riot that broke out at the Capitol six months earlier.
Since that time, the panel’s two Republican and seven Democrat members have increasingly insisted there is evidence that the former president shares culpability for the insurrection. When the riot broke out, both chambers of Congress had been holding a ceremony to certify that Trump's Democratic challenger Joe Biden had won the election. Against all available evidence, Trump claimed that widespread voter fraud had occurred and that he should get a second term.
Thousands of his supporters joined the mob on Jan. 6 that overran the Capitol, causing Congress to call off their work as lawmakers went into hiding. At least five people died either in or because of the melee, which left dozens of police officers injured and resulted in thousands of dollars in damages to government property.
“He lost the 2020 election and knew it,” Thompson said of Trump. “But he chose to try to stay in office through a multipart scheme to overturn the results and block the transfer of power.”
As vice president, Trump's second-in-command Mike Pence presided over the certification ceremony that began on Jan. 6 but was rescheduled because of the riot. As referred to the Justice Department, the obstruction charge stems from evidence that Trump attempted to or successfully obstructed that ceremony by pressuring Pence to overturn the electoral votes. Having ignored Trump's efforts, Pence saw the outgoing president's supporters erect a gallows outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 to have him executed.
If convicted on the insurrection charge, which seeks to hold Trump criminally liable for the mob that breached the Capitol, Trump would be ineligible to run for office in 2024. The count also carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Lawmakers argue that there is evidence Trump and others agreed to defraud the U.S. when they pushed misinformation surrounding election fraud in the months leading up to the November 2020 election. The charge of inciting a riot carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison as well.
In support of the charge that Trump conspired to make a false statement, which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison, lawmakers say he conspired with others to submit slates of fake electors to keep him in power.
Trump already faces two probes by the Department of Justice over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, as well as for having taken government records from the White House and stored them at his South Florida resort home Mar-a-Lago.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has largely remained tight-lipped about probes involving the former president. On Nov. 18, just days after Trump launched 2024 presidential campaign, Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith to oversee the matters.
Garland has repeatedly vowed to go after “all those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on Jan. 6, 2021.” He first made the statement on the one-year anniversary of the attack. The two-year anniversary is in less than three weeks. The committee meanwhile is set to dissolve on Jan. 3, when the House will be taken over by a Republican majority. Monday's was its last hearing.
To date, the government has brought various charges against more than 880 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Nov. 6, about 337 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and about 110 have pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 173 people have been sentenced to prison time.