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House Jan. 6 panel ends probe with referrals on crimes, ethics

Committee votes to refer Donald Trump to Justice Department and four GOP lawmakers to the House Ethics Committee

Members of the House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol Building start their meeting on Monday.
Members of the House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol Building start their meeting on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House select committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol unanimously voted Monday to refer former President Donald Trump to federal prosecutors for his role in the assault and the broader effort to overturn his loss in the 2020 election.

The committee also voted on referrals to the House Ethics Committee for four sitting House members and approved the release of its final report, expected later this week, with recommendations on legislation to prevent such an attack in the future.

The votes capped the committee’s 18-month investigation into the former president, advisers, lawmakers and others in his orbit, though there is little indication Congress will act soon on recommendations to prevent another such attack.

The committee referred House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California as well as Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania to the House Ethics Committee for defying a committee subpoena for their testimony. A fifth member who defied a subpoena, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, is retiring.

In documents released alongside the meeting Monday, the committee said the four members ignored lawful subpoena which “reflects discredit on Congress.”

“If left unpunished, such behavior undermines Congress’s longstanding power to investigate in support of its lawmaking authority and suggests that Members of Congress may disregard legal obligations that apply to ordinary citizens,” the document said.

In response to the subpoenas, McCarthy and other members criticized the panel and its power to issue subpoenas. Last year McCarthy withdrew Republicans from the panel after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to seat Jordan and another member on the committee.

There is little indication that next year’s Republican-controlled House will agree to investigate its own members on such ethics referrals, experts said.

Although the House members were not included in the criminal referrals directly, committee documents indicated they thought that some sitting House members may be useful witnesses for federal investigators.

Trump referrals

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said that American democracy relies on faith that a person’s vote will be honored, one of several speeches that emphasized the unprecedented nature of Trump’s effort to overturn the election.

“If that faith is broken, so is our democracy,” Thompson said. “Donald Trump broke that faith. He lost the 2020 election but he chose to mastermind a scheme to try and stay in office and block the transfer of power.”

Ultimately the committee voted to refer Trump and others for violations of four federal statutes, including obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy and defrauding the United States.

The referrals, which do not bind the Justice Department to act, will likely fold into the broader criminal probe into Trump’s actions overseen by Special Counsel John L. “Jack” Smith, who has been tapped to lead investigations into Jan. 6 after Trump launched a reelection campaign last month.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the chair of the subcommittee that drafted the referrals, said the Jan. 6 panel focused on Trump, attorney John Eastman and others central to the effort instead of the hundreds of crimes the Justice Department already has pursued for those who broke into the Capitol.

“Ours is not a system of justice where foot soldiers go to jail and the masterminds and ringleaders get a pass,” Raskin said.

Probe recap

The panel’s hourlong presentation Monday mostly recapped information it had already released on the attack.

During Monday’s presentation and through a series of public hearings over the last year, the panel put Trump at the center of a broad web of allies who attempted to overturn the election using unproven claims of fraud. That included attorneys Eastman and Rudi Giuliani, as well as sitting members of Congress.

Those efforts included a push for the DOJ to intervene in vote-counting efforts, dozens of unsuccessful lawsuits alleging fraud and a scheme to send false presidential electors to Congress.

Committee members said that following the failure of that campaign, Trump urged thousands of his supporters to demonstrate in Washington before sending them to the Capitol following a fiery speech at the Ellipse on the day Congress counted states’ electoral votes.

Then Trump waited for more than three hours while the attack on the Capitol played out and rebuffed multiple efforts from staff asking him to call off his supporters or involve more law enforcement.

“No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again,” Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said during the hearing. “He is unfit for any office.”

Cheney and others said Trump’s efforts were ultimately frustrated by a small number of government officials, courts and Capitol Police officers who stopped the overthrow of a democratic election.

The Jan. 6 committee’s vote comes days before the end of the current Congress, when Democrats will hand over control of the House to a Republican Party led by McCarthy. McCarthy and other Republicans have called the committee probe a political witch hunt and criticized its legitimacy.

While the committee has two Republican members, the GOP more broadly has rejected efforts to investigate the attack or hold those who participated responsible.

Cheney lost her position as vice chair of the GOP conference following her support for Trump’s impeachment over his conduct on Jan. 6. Cheney later lost her primary race for reelection to a vocal Trump ally.

The only policy change that may pass into law in response to the attack, a change to the 1887-era Electoral Count Act that governs the transfer of power, has advanced separate from the committee’s recommendations and may be included in a year-end funding bill likely to pass Congress this week.

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