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Trump indictment covers similar ground as House Jan. 6 panel

But Congress and prosecutors differed on which charges apply to the former president's actions after the 2020 election

Former President Donald Trump is seen on a monitor during a June 2022 hearing of the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Former President Donald Trump is seen on a monitor during a June 2022 hearing of the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The indictment against former President Donald Trump for crimes related to his efforts to overturn his loss in the 2020 election largely followed a course charted last year by the House select panel that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

The congressional and Justice Department probes bear surface similarities, even to the point that the House select committee recommended the same number of criminal charges against Trump — four — that were included in the indictment.

Both investigations’ findings placed Trump at the center of a broad effort to overturn his loss in the 2020 election that sought to enlist Justice Department appointees, state officials and his supporters.

The indictment and select committee both said Trump launched dozens of frivolous lawsuits to attempt to overturn the election in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona despite knowing they had no evidence of fraud.

And both probes said Trump and his allies put pressure on officials in states like Georgia to stop counting votes or even toss those for President Joe Biden.

They even quoted parts of the same conversations, such as Trump exhorting DOJ officials to “just say the election was corrupt,” which Trump said would allow Republicans in Congress to try to overturn the result.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chaired the select committee, voiced his support for the indictment Tuesday night, framing it as a continuation of the committee’s work.

“January 6th was a test of American democracy, but the fair trials of those responsible will further demonstrate this Nation’s commitment to the rule of law and hold accountable those who attempted to undermine it,” Thompson posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Key differences

But there are differences between the approaches from the panel and the grand jury indictment unveiled by special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith.

When the House Jan. 6 select committee wrapped its probe last year, it recommended the DOJ charge Trump with inciting or assisting an insurrection, obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy, false statements and defrauding the United States.

The 45-page indictment unveiled Tuesday does not include charges of insurrection or false statements. The indictment alleges Trump obstructed an official proceeding, the counting of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6; engaged in a conspiracy for that obstruction; defrauded the United States; and engaged in a “conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.”

That right-to-vote charge dates to the Enforcement Act of 1870, which was passed following the surge of the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction-era South. It comes with some of the stiffest penalties among the crimes Trump faces.

The obstruction charges, present in both the recommendations and the indictment, are shared by many of the more than 1,000 people who already face federal charges connected to the attack on the Capitol.

The committee’s report, over the course of more than 800 pages, also went into greater detail on the attack which was the first disruption of the transfer of power in the nation’s history.

The committee also had a much closer eye on the role members of Congress played in the effort, even to the point of making rare referrals to the House Ethics Committee for those who did not cooperate with subpoenas.

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.

The indictment focuses more on Trump’s effort to enlist Justice Department appointees, state officials and his supporters in the effort to overturn his loss, with little mention of Trump’s supporters in Congress.

Many of those same lawmakers have decried the probe as a political hit job against the former president and the indictment as political interference in Trump’s 2024 campaign.

Members react

Thompson also noted that the panel handed over troves of evidence from their 18-month probe including more than 1,000 interviews and millions of documents.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who was a member of the Jan. 6 panel, praised the indictment and said it “closely tracks” with the panel’s recommendations. “There’s a lot of overlap there,” with the committee’s work, he said.

He also singled out the count of a conspiracy against voting rights as particularly praiseworthy. “We’ve got people spending a year or more, several years in jail for casting one additional vote as voter fraud. What is the proper punishment for someone who tries to steal an entire presidential election from the people?” Raskin said.

Former Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans who served on the select panel, called Trump “an actual traitor” and praised the indictment.

“On the 1/6 Committee, we uncovered proof that Donald Trump not only knew what was happening at the Capitol, but encouraged it. He is a cancer on our democracy. Today is the beginning of Justice. Nobody is above the law; least of all a president who swore an oath to defend it,” Kinzinger posted on X.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., who served as a member of the select panel and is a former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, called the indictment “the most serious charges to date” for the former president in a post on X.

“This will put our democracy to a new test: Can the rule of law be enforced against a former president and current candidate? For the sake of our democracy, that answer must be yes,” Schiff posted.

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