The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol unanimously agreed to refer criminal charges against former president Donald Trump to the Justice Department on Monday, concluding an 18-month examination of the insurrection that shook the country’s free and fair election system.
The committee recommended that prosecutors pursue four charges against Trump: obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to defraud the United States, inciting or assisting an insurrection, and conspiracy to make a false statement.
The Justice Department already has an active investigation of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 vote and his alleged mishandling of government documents. While criminal referrals from the committee hold no legal weight, they set a notable precedent: Congress has never before referred a sitting or former president for prosecution.
Jan. 6 report takeaways
Whether or not Trump is ultimately charged, the action appeared intended to add an exclamation point to the committee’s efforts to prove that he should be disqualified from holding future office.
The committee’s vice chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), pointed in her opening statement Monday to Trump’s decision to watch the riot on television rather than taking action to stop it.
“No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again,” Cheney said of Trump, who announced last month that he is again seeking the presidency. “He is unfit for any office.”
The referrals precede the expected release Wednesday of the committee’s final report, which will tell the most comprehensive story to date of the multipart plan leading up to the Capitol attack and Trump’s role in fomenting it.
A lengthy introduction released Monday identified Trump’s “big lie” — his false assertion that the election had been stolen — as the precipitating factor that kicked off the plot. Further steps included the creation of slates of false electors in states won by Joe Biden as well as a pressure campaign on Vice President Mike Pence to hold up the certification of the election results on Jan. 6, 2021.
Evidence presented by the committee during its summer hearings “has led to an overriding and straight-forward conclusion: the central cause of January 6th was one man, former president Donald Trump, who many others followed,” the committee concludes in its report summary. “None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him.”
The panel also referred to the Justice Department John Eastman, a conservative lawyer, and “certain other Trump associates.” The report cites Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Jeffrey Clark and Kenneth Chesebro among those who “likely share in Eastman’s culpability.”
Committee member Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) said the referrals were necessary given “the magnitude of the crime against democracy.”
A subcommittee made up of the panel’s four lawyers — Cheney, Raskin, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) — worked to put together recommendations on potential criminal referrals and presented them to the broader committee over the past month.
Jack Smith, the Justice Department’s special counsel investigating the plot to overturn the election, recently sent subpoenas to officials across 2020’s most closely contested battleground states asking for all correspondence with Trump or his campaign, including his lawyers.
The Trump campaign responded to the referrals with a statement attacking the committee’s legitimacy: “The January 6th Unselect Committee held show trials by Never Trump partisans who are a stain on this country’s history. This Kangaroo court has been nothing more than a vanity project that insults Americans’ intelligence and makes a mockery of our democracy.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on the referrals, but when Smith was appointed special counsel last month, he said in a statement that he would “exercise independent judgement.”
Eastman condemned the committee’s referral in a statement from his lawyer as “absurdly partisan” and criticized the committee for, as he saw it, attempting “to create political advantage for the Democratic Party and stigmatize disfavored political groups.”
Committee lawmakers on Monday also voted to refer four GOP lawmakers to the House Ethics Committee for failing to comply with the investigative committee’s subpoenas: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Andy Biggs of Arizona.
Jordan spokesman Russell Dye slammed the committee for what he called “another partisan and political stunt.”
Monday’s televised meeting featured new video testimony from two top Trump White House officials, Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks, both of whom suggested that Trump approved of or found value in the violence unfolding at the Capitol.
Hicks, for example, texted a campaign aide during the riot, saying that she had “suggested … several times” on Jan. 4 and 5 that Trump should preemptively call for those attending his Jan. 6, 2021, speech on the Ellipse to be peaceful, but that Trump declined to do so.
When asked by the committee for Trump’s response to her concerns, Hicks said in the video: “He said something along the lines of: ‘Nobody will care about my legacy if I lose. So that won’t matter. The only thing that matters is winning.’”
The committee presented testimony over nine public hearings from more than 70 witnesses, the majority of whom were Republicans, including some of the Trump administration’s top officials and highest-ranking staffers. More than 30 witnesses invoked the Fifth Amendment, including Eastman, Chesebro, Clark, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, according to the report.
Even as the committee on Monday offered an official end to its work, members reported new information about apparent attempts to obstruct their investigation.
Lofgren said that one witness was “offered potential employment that would make her ‘financially very comfortable’ as the date of her testimony approached by entities that were linked to Donald Trump and his associates.”
When word began to circulate of the witness’s plan to testify in ways that were unflattering to Trump, the offer disappeared. “We are concerned that these efforts may have been a strategy to prevent the committee from finding the truth,” Lofgren said.
Other snippets of evidence gleaned by investigators were presented Monday by lawmakers, including that Trump raised roughly a quarter of a billion dollars between Election Day 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021, as he and his allies promoted false claims of election fraud. “Those solicitations persistently claimed and referred to election fraud that did not exist,” the committee wrote in its report.
The report also offers new details about the weapons stockpile that had been amassed by those who attended Trump’s speech on the Ellipse before the riot.
It cites a previously unseen November 2021 document produced by U.S. Capitol Police and provided to the committee: “Secret Service confiscated a haul of weapons from the 28,000 spectators who did pass through the magnetometers: 242 canisters of pepper spray, 269 knives or blades, 18 brass knuckles, 18 tasers, 6 pieces of body armor, 3 gas masks, 30 batons or blunt instruments, and 17 miscellaneous items like scissors, needles, or screwdrivers.”
“And thousands of others purposely remained outside the magnetometers, or left their packs outside,” the report adds.
Committee members have agreed to make all evidence and transcripts of depositions publicly available, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
Of particular importance will be any evidence that either corroborates or undercuts the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former Trump aide who made explosive claims.
Those revelations included that she had been told Trump tried to take the wheel of the presidential SUV from his Secret Service detail as he sought to continue onward to the Capitol after speaking at the Ellipse on Jan. 6. She also testified that she had come across the aftermath of an apparent outburst by the president that resulted in a smashed plate and ketchup dripping down a White House wall.
“Recollections are not perfect, and the Committee expects that different accounts of the same events will naturally vary,” lawmakers wrote in the introductory report. “Indeed, the lack of any inconsistencies in witness accounts would itself be suspicious. And many witnesses may simply recall different things than others.”
The committee’s dwindling staff, along with members, has worked overtime in recent weeks to redact any sensitive information, such as the names of witnesses who provided depositions on the condition of anonymity and potential intelligence that could jeopardize national security.
Other government agencies have also prepared for the release of the report. Officials in the Department of Homeland Security, for example, have been reviewing the transcripts of interviews with Secret Service personnel in preparation for their release to ensure that no confidential information is made public.
The report-writing process has been marred by disagreements. Former and current staff have complained that important findings have been overlooked and deprioritized, and bristle at Cheney’s influence over the final report.
Cheney has clashed with other members and staff over her desire to keep the work squarely focused on Trump, people familiar with the matter have said. She has tussled in particular with Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a retiring lawmaker.
The two sparred extensively during a member meeting Wednesday after Cheney insulted Murphy, people familiar with the matter said. Cheney urged Murphy to take a sober approach to the issues under discussion regarding the final report, before cautioning her not to call The Washington Post and leak the committee deliberations, according to people familiar with the exchange, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Murphy and Cheney both declined to comment.
The attack: The Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event
Although some have been critical of Cheney, many involved with the process credit her for the committee’s success and say the panel raised the bar for how congressional committees should operate — both in terms of the summer hearings, which were widely watched, and in distilling key elements for the final report.
Cheney on Monday praised her fellow committee members, the committee’s staff and the witnesses, saying that after an unprecedented attack on the peaceful transfer of power, they had responded appropriately.
“We have accomplished much over a short period of time,” she said in what will be one of her final public appearances as a member of Congress, following her defeat in a GOP primary. “Many of you sacrificed for the good of our nation. You have helped make history and, I hope, helped right the ship.”
Perry Stein contributed to this report.
The Jan. 6 insurrection
The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.
The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.
The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.
Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.