The House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol will make criminal referrals to the Justice Department as it wraps up its probe and looks to publish a final report by the end of the year, the panel’s chairman said December 6.
Representative Bennie Thompson, D-MI, told reporters that the committee has decided to issue the referrals recommending criminal prosecution, but did not disclose who the targets will be or if former President Donald Trump will be among them.
“At this point, there’ll be a separate document coming from me to DOJ,” Thompson told reporters at the Capitol.
The decision to issue referrals is not unexpected. Representative Liz Cheney, R-WY, the vice chair of the committee, has for months been hinting at sending the Justice Department criminal referrals based on the extensive evidence the nine-member panel has gathered since it was formed in July 2021.
“The Committee has determined that referrals to outside entities should be considered as a final part of its work,” a spokesperson for the select committee said in a statement. “The committee will make decisions about specifics in the days ahead.”
While Congress can send criminal referrals to the Justice Department, it is ultimately up to federal prosecutors whether to pursue charges. In the past year, the committee has referred several members of Trump’s inner circle to the agency for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas. So far only one contempt of Congress charge, against Steven Bannon, has turned into an indictment.
The panel — comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans — has sought to create the most comprehensive record of what the lawmakers have called Trump’s “staggering betrayal” of his oath of office and his supporters’ unprecedented attempt to stop Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
The committee built its case against the former president over a series of public hearings that began in early June and included live and video testimony from members of Trump’s family, his White House aides and other allies.
At the end of the last hearing, the committee voted unanimously to subpoena Trump for his testimony under oath as well as documents. In response, Trump filed a lawsuit against the panel.
With the select committee set to dissolve at the end of the year, lawmakers do not appear to be putting up a fight to secure Trump’s testimony. But his criminal referral, as Cheney and others have suggested, could prove to be a much more powerful closing argument.
Trump is facing more serious legal challenges off Capitol Hill, including the Mar-a-Lago investigation focused on the potential mishandling of top-secret documents.