The House Jan. 6 committee on Monday recommended that former president Trump face criminal charges, accusing him of committing insurrection, obstruction, and other crimes as he sought to overturn the 2020 election and urged a deadly mob to march on the Capitol.
The referral has no precedent in American history. And along with a report slated for release on Wednesday and reams of additional documents expected to be made public before the end of the year, the detailed referral is also a way for the committee’s 18-month investigation to ensure its work outlives the committee itself, which will dissolve when the current Congress draws to a close.
“The committee recognizes that our work has only begun, it’s only the initial step in addressing President Trump’s effort to remain in office illegally,” said Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican, from the dais on Monday. “Prosecutors are considering the implications of the conduct that we describe in our report, as are citizens all across our nation.”
Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland said the impact of the panel will only be clear in the future.
“Our greatest legacy and our most enduring legacy would be one that is certified by time, which is that we never encounter anything like this again and that we keep the progress of American democracy moving,” he said.
It was Raskin who announced the referrals near the end of a roughly hourlong meeting of the committee’s nine members on Monday afternoon — the final public meeting of a panel that laid out an exhaustive case against the former president over 10 hearings last summer. Video clip by video clip, they attempted to illustrate that even though the former president knew he had lost the election, he and his allies sought to overturn it and ultimately incited a violent coup. The panel replayed its key findings and added the revelation that one key witness was offered “very comfortable” employment by what it said was an entity linked to Trump and his associates, which the witness believed was an attempt to affect her testimony — a potential attempt at bribery that was later withdrawn.
“We have every confidence that the work of this committee will help provide a roadmap to justice, and that the agencies and institutions responsible for ensuring justice under the law will use the information we provided to aid in their work,” said Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, a Democrat who chairs the committee.
But the ad-hoc nature of the committee itself — and the political consequences for some who served on it — was on display Monday, too. Cheney lost her primary after Trump supporters in Wyoming soured on her, while Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the panel’s other Republican, opted not to run for reelection. Democrat Elaine Luria of Virginia also lost a narrow reelection battle to a Republican who knocked her for focusing too much on Jan. 6.
The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol, as it is formally known, was formed on a mostly party-line vote on July 1, 2021, nearly six months after a mob bent on stopping the congressional certification of Trump’s 2020 election loss to Joe Biden overran the Capitol as the then-president stood by and refused to try to call off the mob. Four people in the crowd died and five law enforcement officers who responded to the violence lost their lives in the days or months to come.
At the time, Trump tried to downplay the attack and most House Republicans followed suit, with one, Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia, likening the events of the day to a standard tourist visit. Senate Republicans blocked legislation creating an independent commission like the one that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“It will find the truth, which clearly the Republicans fear,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said at the time.
Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican New Jersey governor who chaired the 9/11 commission, said his panel’s report became the definitive history of that incident and predicted the Jan. 6 committee report will serve the same purpose for the insurrection.
“We’re still used as college textbooks on 9/11,” Kean said of his commission’s report, which became a best-selling book for its detailed narrative. “I don’t think this will reach that stage, but if somebody wants to study … Jan. 6, they’re going to read this report because that’s going to be the prime source.”
But the probe extended past the insurrection itself, reaching back into the days after 2020 election as Trump and some of those around him scrambled to hold onto power, pressuring state officials, Justice Department officials, and even Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election.
“Ours is not a system of justice, where foot soldiers go to jail and the masterminds and ringleaders get a free pass,” said Raskin, a Democrat and constitutional lawyer who explained the four laws the committee believes Trump has broken.
Raskin said that Trump, his lawyer John Eastman, and “others” had all violated a law making it illegal for anyone to “corruptly obstruct, influence or impede” official government proceedings. He then accused Trump, Eastman, and others of conspiring to defraud the United States.
Raskin also said that, in attempting to submit fake slates of presidential electors in swing states he actually lost, Trump had unlawfully and knowingly made false statements to the federal government. Finally, he said, Trump had violated a law that makes it illegal to incite, assist, or engage in insurrection.
“It is a grave federal offense, anchored in the Constitution itself, which repeatedly opposes insurrections and domestic violence, and indeed uses participation in insurrection by office holders as automatic grounds for disqualification from ever holding public office again, at the federal or state level,” Raskin said, warning of long-reaching consequences if Trump is prosecuted and found guilty.
The referrals are not binding. The Justice Department is investigating both Trump’s role on Jan. 6 and his management of classified documents after he left office; those investigations are being overseen by a special counsel, Jack Smith.
Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Raskin suggested that the committee had to respond to a president who had done the unthinkable.
“Nobody before, much less a president, had ever come so close to overthrowing a presidential election and bypassing the Constitution,” Raskin said.
The committee’s members have suggested they hope their work will have political consequences, not just legal ones — that they have moved the needle on the way the public views Trump and his attempts to stay in office.
“There is a broader kind of accountability, accountability to all of you, the American people,” Thompson said. “The future of our democracy rests in your hands. It’s up to the people of this country to decide who deserves the public trust, who will put fidelity to the Constitution and democracy above all else. Who will abide by the rule of law, no matter the outcome.”