capitol (up)hill battle

The House Jan. 6 committee’s criminal referrals don’t guarantee Trump will see his day in court

The committee’s nine members unanimously voted to refer Trump for prosecution by the US Department of Justice

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Holding Trump accountable
Holding Trump accountable
Photo: Pool (Getty Images)

Criminal charges should be brought against former president Donald Trump over the Capitol Hill riots of Jan. 6, 2021, according to a bipartisan House committee that spent 17 months investigating the event.

During a final public meeting yesterday (Dec. 19), the committee’s nine members unanimously voted to refer Trump for prosecution by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) for his role in the insurrection that attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The panel, set up in July 2021, will dissolve on Jan. 3, and the new Republican-led House is unlikely to revive it.

The decision, reached after conducting 1,000 interviews, hosting 10 public hearings, and parsing through over a million documents, marks the first-ever such referral of a former president.

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The criminal offenses laid out against Trump include obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to make a false statement, and inciting or aiding an insurrection, among other things. The committee found that Trump and his aides not only tried to derail the outcome of the election, but Trump himself exacerbated the violence with his tweets and refusal to send security.

The committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans also said it would refer four Republican members of Congress—house minority leader Kevin McCarthy, Andy Biggs, Jim Jordan and Scott Perry—to the House ethics committee for failing to comply with the committee’s requests.

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Criminal referrals are largely symbolic unless federal justice authorities act on it. Yet, House Jan. 6 committee head Bennie Thompson is confident the justice department will probe and charge Trump. It does seem plausible. In November, the DOJ appointed a special counsel to investigate the former president’s conduct—Trump called it an “appalling announcement” and a “horrendous abuse of power.”

Should Trump be found guilty, the 2024 presidential hopeful would not be able to hold office again.

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Key quote from the Jan. 6 House committee summary

“If President Trump and the associates who assisted him in an effort to overturn the lawful outcome of the 2020 election are not ultimately held accountable under the law, their behavior may become a precedent and invitation to danger for future elections. A failure to hold them accountable now may ultimately lead to future unlawful efforts to overturn our elections, thereby threatening the security and viability of our Republic.” —Jan. 6 committee’s 154-page executive summary of its Dec. 19 meeting. A full report with “transcripts and documents” is expected tomorrow (Dec. 21).

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Person of interest: John Eastman

The committee also voted to refer conservative lawyer John Eastman, who made borderline illegal moves to keep Trump in power, for prosecution on two of the same statutes as the former president: conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstructing an official proceeding.

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Among other things, Eastman had “admitted” that then-vice president Mike Pence would not be able “to lawfully refuse to count official electoral votes,” but formulated a scheme for him to do so anyway, the committee said. An order by US district judge David O. Carter earlier this year said Trump and his lawyers pushed claims of voter fraud that they knew to be false to delay the counting of electoral votes.

A professor at Chapman University at the time, Eastman spoke during Trump’s rally at the White House Ellipse ahead of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. Over 140 of his Chapman colleagues called for his resignation. Eastman, who retired shortly after the attack, called the letter “defamatory.

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Trump’s other legal troubles

Mar-a-Lago and Trump’s mishandling of classified documents

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seized hundreds of documents during its raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. It was part of an investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified files from the White House. He reportedly had upwards of 300 such documents at his Florida home. On Dec. 13, House Oversight Committee chairperson Carolyn Maloney urged the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to look into whether Trump has retained more documents at his storage facilities and residences.

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Trump’s taxes

Two weeks ago, two of Trump’s businesses were convicted of tax fraud. For years, Trump has guarded his tax returns from the public view—but that could change soon. The House Ways and Means Committee, which received six years of tax returns for Trump and some of his businesses after a long legal tussle, is expected to vote on whether to publicly release the records spanning 2015-2020 today (Dec. 20).

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