House January 6 panel recommends criminal charges against Donald Trump

Photograph: Gaelen Morse/Reuters

The January 6 committee has referred Donald Trump to the justice department to face criminal charges, accusing the former president of fomenting an insurrection and conspiring against the government over his attempt to subvert the outcome of the 2020 election, and the bloody attack on the US Capitol.

The committee’s referrals approved by its members Monday are the first time in American history that Congress has recommended charges against a former president. It comes after more than a year of investigation by the bipartisan House of Representatives panel tasked with understanding Trump’s plot to stop Joe Biden from taking office.

“The committee believes that more than sufficient evidence exists for a criminal referral of former President Trump for assisting or aiding and comforting those at the Capitol who engaged in a violent attack on the United States,” congressman Jamie Raskin said as the committee held its final public meeting.

“The committee has developed significant evidence that President Trump intended to disrupt the peaceful transition of power under our Constitution. The president has an affirmative and primary constitutional duty to act to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Nothing could be a greater betrayal of this duty than to assist in insurrection against the constitutional order.”

Related: January 6 report expected to focus on Trump’s role and potential culpability

The committee accused Trump of breaching four federal criminal statutes, including those relating to obstructing an official proceeding of Congress, assisting an insurrection and conspiring to defraud the United States. It also believed Trump committed seditious conspiracy — the same charge for which two members of the rightwing Oath Keepers militia group were found guilty of by a jury last month.

The lawmakers also referred four Republican House representatives to the chamber’s ethics committee. The group includes Kevin McCarthy, the GOP leader who is expected to run for speaker of the House when the party takes control of the chamber next year.

The committee also urged the justice department to investigate efforts to obstruct its investigation, including by “certain counsel… who may have advised clients to provide false or misleading testimony to the Committee.”

The referrals are largely a recommendation, but will arrive at a justice department already busy investigating the former president for crimes he may have committed during and after his time in office.

Attorney general Merrick Garland last month appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith to determine whether to charge Trump over the insurrection and his efforts to disrupt the peaceful transition of power. Smith is also handling the inquiry into whether Trump unlawfully retained government secrets after leaving the White House in January 2021.

On Wednesday, the panel is expected to release a lengthy report into the attack that left five people dead and spawned nearly 1,000 criminal cases. That may be the final word from the committee, which many Americans hoped would follow in the mold of the bipartisan group that investigated the 9/11 attacks, but quickly ran up against opposition from Trump and his allies.

Created by an almost party line vote in the Democratic-led House, the nine-member panel has two Republican lawmakers, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both of whom were censured by their party for participating and won’t return to Congress next year. Their nine public hearings held this year featured in-person testimony from witnesses and recorded interviews that shed light on how the attack happened, but the lawmakers also resorted to issuing subpoenas to a host of uncooperative former Trump officials and allies, some of whom are facing jail time for refusing to comply.

In its second-to-last hearing held in October, the committee publicly voted to subpoena documents and testimony from Trump. The former president went to court to stop the summons, and time appears to be on his side. The committee’s mandate runs out at the end of the year, and in 2023, the Republicans will have a majority in the House, where they are almost certain not to continue its work.

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